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Artificial intelligence in healthcare

Technological developments are a key driver in changing the face of healthcare. But how far are patients prepared to take this. For example, can robots really be used to deliver procedures and how do patients feel about this?


The future of healthcare

Most of us have watched the odd sci-fi film now and again and seen a future where robots have the capacity to do much of what we humans can do. But that future is not so far away and already robots are performing tasks that previously had to be done by people. In many industries robots are already a critical part of the manufacturing process and have been for many years.

But it’s one thing watching a robot making a car part whereas it’s another thing completely to imagine a robot replacing your doctor or nurse. Would we be prepared to accept the use of AI in healthcare and how far would we be prepared to go? We might not want a robot performing an operation on us but would we be happy for an intelligent computer to offer us a diagnosis or help with monitoring our medicines?

Artificial intelligence (AI) is defined as the science and engineering of creating intelligent computer systems that are able to perform tasks without receiving instructions directly from humans. These computer systems use a number of different algorithms and decision-making capabilities, as well as vast amounts of data, to provide a solution or response to a request. There is potential to link data collected via apps and social media with remote patient monitoring, Electronic Health Records (EHRs) and genomics, and aggregate it into 'Predictive and Prescriptive Analytics' to calculate future activities and model scenarios using simulation and forecasting. This offers the capability to do something about possible future health events – leading to the true personalisation of healthcare.

Key findings

39% are willing to engage with artificial intelligence /robotics for healthcare.

Men are significantly more willing than women – 47% compared to 32%.

39% are willing to engage with artificial intelligence /robotics for healthcare.
How age groups respond to using an intelligent healthcare assistant

Younger generation more open to engage

18-24 year olds are the most willing (at 55%), with willingness decreasing by age group until over 55s are least willing (at 33% - still an interesting finding that fully 1/3 are willing)

England most hesitant

Wales and Scotland are far more willing to engage with AI and/or robots for healthcare than other UK regions – at 52% and 47% respectively, compared to England (38%).

Wales and Scotland are far more willing to engage with AI than other UK regions
Using and intelligent healthcare assistant

Self vs others

Interestingly we found that more people would be prepared to engage with an ‘intelligent healthcare assistant’ for themselves, for example monitoring their own diabetes and being advised on subsequent lifestyle changes (47% willing), but less so for their loved ones/family (54% unwilling).


Whilst the willingness for robots to be involved with major surgery was low (27%) there was some willingness for them to be involved in the more minor, non-invasive procedures (36%). Still some way to go before C3PO carries out a heart operation!

The willingness for robots to be involved with major surgery


babylon is an app and web based service which lets users get GP and specialist consultations by video and phone.

As well as doctors, babylon also uses artificial intelligence to check symptoms, answer medical questions and give advice on what the person should do next. Many of the services within the app are free and there is also a subscription option for unlimited GP appointments.

In an experimental 6 month trial, the NHS is testing an artificial intelligence app, NHS111 powered by babylon, as a way for potential patients to find out how urgent their problems are and seek medical advice. More than 1.2 million people living in areas of North London will be able to use a chatbot created by babylon as an alternative to the non-emergency 111 number. The app uses geo location technology to provide a free service across five London boroughs: Barnet, Camden, Enfield, Haringey and Islington. It’s available to people that live, work, or are visiting the area.

The trial is intended to reduce the pressures put on the 111 non-emergency service. The NHS111 powered by babylon app, is available to download from Google Play and the Apple Appstore for free.

What doctor?

We also conducted research based on a commissioned survey of over 11,000 people from 12 countries across Europe, the Middle East and Africa – in our report What doctor? Why AI and robotics will define New Health. Across the region, more than half of respondents (55%) said they were willing to use advanced computer technology or robots with AI that can answer health questions, perform tests, make a diagnosis and recommend treatment.

Three main themes emerged from the findings:

  • Patients are increasingly willing to engage with AI and robots if it means better access to healthcare
  • Speed and accuracy of diagnosis and treatment is a critical factor for this willingness
  • Trust in the technology is vital for wider use and adoption; the ‘human touch’ remains a key component of the healthcare experience.

Emerging markets are most open to rely on technology for their care. Read the report here.

Digital health now - imagine healthcare with AI…

Your daughter has had a rash on her face for a couple of days now so you seek advice via your A.I. powered health app on your smartphone. It suggests it could be the “slapped cheek” virus and has advised you seek further medical advice, so book an e-consultation with your doctor online. Just then your smart watch buzzes to remind you that you need to take your statin medication - it's such a shame Dad didn't have smart pill technology to remind him to take his medication, otherwise maybe he would still be here.

Right on cue your doctor video calls you an hour later and uses the diagnostic device plugged in to your smart phone to review your daughter’s vital signs. You show her how the rash has progressed to her chest and confirm she has now developed a sore throat and headache too. She diagnoses scarlet fever and prescribes a course of antibiotics.

You say goodbye as you’ve got another call coming through. It’s from the telecare company that monitors your mother’s wellbeing at her bungalow on the other side of the country by a range of networked remote devices. At 82 she’s still a force of nature, if a little frail, but insists she is capable of living in her own home, and who are you to argue. They’re calling to let you know her smoke alarm just went off for three minutes. You ring your mother and she says she was only toasting a crumpet and that you should be looking after your daughter, not worrying about her. You’ve got to go; the doorbell is buzzing. It’s the delivery driver from the pharmacy with your daughter’s medication.

This is not the future of healthcare; this is the inter-connected world of digital health today. Now think where healthcare will be in five years’ time as people use technology to track and manage their digital healthcare identities even further.

Contact us

Quentin  Cole

Quentin Cole

Leader of Industry for Government and Health Industries, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)7770 303846

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