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29-Aug-2019

Public's ‘artificial intelligence hesitancy’ could hinder healthcare innovation and boost health inequalities, University of Westminster-led study finds

The public’s concerns about accuracy, cyber-security and the inability of AI-led chatbots to sympathise could be in the way of successfully introducing artificial intelligence into healthcare, new research led by the University of Westminster has found.

The study involving the University of Westminster, the University College London and the University of Southampton is the first to look at public attitudes towards AI in healthcare, and it comes at a crucial time following the £250 million funding announcement for AI in the NHS.

This new research developed a concept of ‘AI hesitancy’ which shows that a large proportion of the public is reluctant to use AI-led services for their healthcare, particularly for more serious illnesses. However, the newly announced NHS funding does not consider public acceptance of this technology. Therefore, the researchers warn that increased focus on AI in the NHS can increase health inequalities and may be detrimental to public health in the UK.

The study entitled “Acceptability of Artificial Intelligence (AI)-led chatbot services in healthcare: A mixed-method study” aimed to explore the public’s willingness to engage with AI-led health chatbots.

The first-of-its-kind research, published in the peer-reviewed journal Digital Health, used 29 semi-structured interviews to aid the development of an online survey of 216 participants which was advertised on social media. The survey explored a range of demographic and attitudinal variables, including questions about acceptability and perceived effectiveness of AI in healthcare.

The results identified three broad themes: ‘Understanding of chatbots’, ‘AI hesitancy’ and ‘Motivations for health chatbots’, defining public concern about accuracy, cyber-security and the inability of AI-led chatbots to sympathise.

Speaking about the findings in light of the £250 million NHS investment, the lead researcher from the University of Westminster Dr Tom Nadarzynski said: “Our research shows that at present a large proportion of the public is hesitant to use AI-led tools and services for their health, particularly for severe or stigmatised conditions. This is related to a lack of understanding of this technology, the concerns about privacy and confidentiality, as well as the perceived absence of empathy that is vital for patient-centred healthcare in the XXI century.

“We welcome the government’s initiative to set up ‘an Artificial Intelligence Lab’ within the NHS framework in England. Although we recognise the opportunities this technology may provide in terms of managing demand, supporting the development of new diagnostic tools and greater cost-effectiveness of services, we emphasise the importance of involving the public in the design and development of AI in healthcare. This way, the problem of ‘AI hesitancy’ hindering the improvement of healthcare provision could be addressed and the technology could make a real difference to the patients.”

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Last Updated: 29-Aug-2019