AI In Healthcare: Can AI Replace Doctors?
Have you ever gone to the internet for medical advice?
With high NHS and GP waiting times and so much information available online, many of us to turn to the web when we get sick, before (or instead of) seeing a doctor.
The rise in artificial intelligence (AI) platforms, like ChatGPT, gives us a new place to ask questions about our health online and get the information we’re looking for. But it’s not always the right information.
The limitations of AI platforms are leading to people getting inaccurate and sometimes dangerous medical advice. This can mean people are incorrectly self-diagnosing and potentially not getting the help they need.
How often is this happening and how bad is it?
We surveyed 2000 UK residents to find out how people feel about getting their medical advice from the internet and AI platforms versus a doctor. We also put ChatGPT to the test with some common medical questions, with our own doctors weighing in on how accurate and helpful the answers are.
How many people are already using AI?
The rise in access to AI platforms is making it easier than ever to get answers quickly online. But are people actually using them?
Our survey found that 22% of the UK use AI once a week, with just over 1 in 10 people using it every single day. As you might expect, younger generations like Gen Z (ages 18-26) and Millennials (ages 27-42) are the ones using AI the most. In fact, according to our survey, 15% of Gen Z use AI every day, while 29% use it at least once a week, with Millennials just behind, 26% using it once a week.
Additionally, over two thirds of people said they do use AI once a month. This means that people are definitely aware that AI platforms are out there and could start using them more and more.
Who do we trust for medical advice?
To get a sense of how people view AI when it comes to getting help for medical issues, we asked the UK who they’d trust the most for advice.
Unsurprisingly, the sources most UK adults trust for medical advice are doctors (76%) and nurses (60%). Most people also said they’d value the advice of a close friend over AI platforms.
- Despite these figures, the majority of Brits don’t go to a doctor when they have a medical issue. Less than half of our survey (48%) said they’d turn to a doctor first for advice.
- Over one in eight UK adults’ first port of call is Dr Google. Gen Z is also very sceptical of professional medical advice, with 42% stating that they’ve questioned a doctor’s diagnosis based on information they’ve found online.
Additionally, nearly 3 in 10 of those who use AI every day said they would trust AI to give them medical advice – with 15% of men trusting AI compared to 12% of women on average – showing that people would feel comfortable turning to platforms like ChatGPT when they have medical issues.
But why aren’t people going to doctors and nurses if that’s who we trust the most?
When it’s difficult to talk to your doctor
One reason why people might be turning to online sources first for medical advice is because they might be nervous or embarrassed to go to their doctor about certain issues or topics.
Topics around sexual health are often considered taboo, leaving many people feeling uncomfortable talking about issues like erectile dysfunction and STIs. In fact, according to our survey, just under 1 in 3 men said they’d find it difficult to talk to their doctor about erectile dysfunction, a condition that 55% of men between the age of 40 to 70 years old experience.
Women also found it tough to speak to their doctor about their sexual health, with the most difficult conditions to discuss being thrush and the menopause (25% and 12% respectfully). Sexually transmitted infections were another tricky topic, with 34% of Gen Z worried about talking to their doctors about STIs.
Mental health is another issue people found difficult, with just under 1 in 5 people saying they’d struggle to talk about mental illness with their doctor. Regionally, we found that adults in Northern Ireland struggled the most to talk about their mental health, with 35% saying they’d find it hard to discuss with their doctor.
Body Image and Appearance
While less than a quarter of Gen Z said they’d find it hard to talk to a doctor about body weight, appearance-based issues are having a knock-on effect on their mental health. Over a third of Gen Z said that their weight had affected their mental health in the past year. Acne was the second most impactful condition, with 16% feeling the effect on their mental wellbeing.
Despite their openness to talk about these conditions, this age group struggles the most to get support for their mental health, with 30% of 18-24 year olds saying they’d find it difficult to discuss mental wellbeing with a doctor.
Additionally, while only 9% of men overall found hair loss a tricky topic to discuss with medical professionals, 15% of men aged 25-34 said it had affected their mental health in the past year.
Getting support for medical issues
According to our survey, most people are predominantly, and thankfully, getting their medical advice from doctors and nurses (76% and 65% respectively). However, as we’ve seen, not everyone feels comfortable speaking to a professional about their medical issues.
Many are therefore turning to AI platforms and the internet to get information and advice about their conditions, potentially as a way to avoid those difficult conversations. Around 1 in 3 people have taken Google’s advice when it comes to medical issues and 12% of Gen Z and 11% of Millennials have taken medical advice from AI platforms before.
But how useful is this advice?
Well, 82% of people who have used AI for medical advice said they found the information they got back was helpful. In fact, AI proved to be the online source people found most helpful, with social media sites like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter coming in next.
However, support from medical professionals came out on top, with just 1% of people saying they found advice from a doctor or nurse to be unhelpful!
Putting AI to the test: GPs versus ChatGPT
To put AI to the test, we went to ChatGPT and Google Bard with a range of symptoms to see what advice we’d get. We then asked our online doctors what they made of the results to see whether we should trust our AI diagnoses.
According to the analysis, 66% of the advice was helpful and 11% was unhelpful. Equally crucial was the revelation that 23% of the AI-generated medical advice was potentially harmful. Our panel of doctors noted instances where AI had overlooked critical indicators of conditions like HIV, ectopic pregnancy and ovarian cancer, serving a poignant reminder of the indispensable role of real-life doctors in reliable diagnosis.
— Dr Crystal Wyllie, a leading physician at Asda Online Doctor
In general, ChatGPT seems to be a bit more comprehensive than Google Bard and considers a wider range of potential diagnoses. I think for all of these scenarios more specific questions can be asked by a doctor initially to include or rule out specific diagnoses so the potential differential list may be shorter.
It would also be possible to reassure patients about more worrying diagnoses such as bladder cancer if certain symptoms are not present.
Will AI replace doctors?
From providing medical advice to generating music, it seems like AI is capable of anything, leaving many wondering what impact it’ll have on our daily lives.
Our survey found that around 50% of people are worried that AI is going to take over important real-world professions. Most people are concerned that doctors’ jobs are at risk (65%), including those who barely use AI themselves. People are just as worried about AI replacing nurses, with pilots coming in third as the most at-risk profession.
How concerned are British citizens about AI replacing their professions, compared to how frequently they use AI?
However, there are plenty of ways that AI falls short compared to real doctors and nurses. These include:
- Observation – currently, AI can’t observe or examine you, meaning any diagnosis might be missing vital information
- Context – in the same vein, an AI can only give you advice based on the information you put in
- Empathy – AI can’t match the empathy and bedside manner of medical professionals which plays a key role in treatment
These limitations mean that it’s unlikely AI will replace doctors anytime soon. Instead, doctors and nurses are more likely to work with AI platforms to help everyone access helpful and accurate medical advice.
With more people using AI platforms on a daily basis, this might seem like a quick and easy way to get medical advice, especially for sensitive issues like sexual health. However, as we’ve shown, the information platforms like ChatGPT provide isn’t always the most accurate and can lead you down the wrong path.
Even if you’re short on time or feeling nervous to talk about tricky topics, nothing replaces talking to a trained medical professional. That’s where we come in.
Whether you need a prescription for contraceptive pills or advice about hair loss, our Online Doctor service puts you in touch with NHS-trained doctors without leaving your home. Take a look at our services and see how we can help.