AI health

Physicians face numerous challenges in health care delivery, leading to widespread burnout and a desire for change.

Despite these challenges there is notable optimism regarding the potential of technology and, in particular, artificial intelligence (AI) to address many of the issues faced in health care.

According to the third Athenahealth Physician Sentiment Survey conducted by The Harris Poll, a significant majority of physicians (83%) believe AI could alleviate many of the problems facing health care.

Among the reported possible benefits of AI that surveyed physicians identified, AI could identify patterns and anomalies in patient data, reduce administrative burdens, increase health care efficiencies, improve the accuracy of patient diagnoses, and monitor real-time patient data.

At the same time, however, physicians are concerned about the real-world implementation of AI in health care.

Many physicians (70%) express concerns about AI-enabled patient diagnoses and are worried about their reliability and accuracy.

Another chief concern is the potential loss of a human touch, with 60% of physicians expressing worry about this aspect.

Still, physicians who are optimistic about AI tend to feel more hopeful about the direction of health care and are less likely to experience burnout from stressors such as excessive documentation requirements and constant demands to respond to patients outside of scheduled visits.

They also express more positive attitudes toward technology in general, advocating for greater connectivity between systems to enhance both the physician and patient experience, integrating data with wearable devices, and incorporating telehealth into ongoing clinical care.

“We should think about AI as a new set of tools in the toolbox that can allow physicians to focus on the patient and practice old-fashioned medicine in a high-tech setting,” says Dr. Nele Jessel, chief medical officer for Athenahealth. “AI solutions should be implemented in a way that supports clinicians without replacing their decision-making process.”

For example, AI can streamline administrative tasks, allowing physicians to dedicate more time to patient interactions.

Meanwhile, AI-powered chatbots can handle routine inquiries, schedule appointments and refill medications, freeing up clinicians to focus on direct patient care.

“Alongside physician input, ethical considerations and transparency are other key factors that must be prioritized when developing and deploying AI solutions,” Jessel says. “This involves ensuring transparency in how AI, specifically generative AI, makes decisions and implementing safeguards to protect patient privacy and data security.”

She adds health care organizations should invest in training programs to familiarize clinicians with AI and equip them with the skills to use the technology in their practice effectively.

This includes training on interpreting AI-generated insights and integrating them into clinical decision-making processes.

“From firsthand experience working with physicians every day to help them in their practice, I’m not surprised by most of the findings around burnout,” Jessel says. “However, I imagine many would be quite surprised to hear that more than half of physicians surveyed say they have considered no longer seeing patients or leaving the medical field altogether, when asked about their current employment situation.”

She explains this staggering statistic underscores the urgent crisis facing the health care industry and is a serious threat to the continuity and quality of health care delivery in the United States.

Notably, the survey highlights the significant role that technology, particularly AI and efficient electronic health records (EHRs), could play in alleviating some of the challenges physicians face.

“The finding that physicians with efficient EHRs spend two hours less per week working outside of normal business hours underscores the potential of technology to improve work-life balance and reduce burnout,” Jesel says. “This will, in turn, mitigate burnout, improve workflow efficiencies, enhance patient outcomes, and ultimately transform the delivery of health care services.”