Northern Ireland patients would opt for AI medics to sidestep GP waiting lists

  • Northern Ireland most receptive UK region to engage with AI in healthcare
  • More than 50% patients would give up seeing a doctor or nurse in favour of a robot
  • Opportunity to deliver radical change for healthcare systems

More Northern Ireland patients than anywhere else in the UK would let a robot help deliver their  baby, administer an injection and even carry out major invasive surgery., according to a new PwC survey.  

An new PwC survey, AI and Healthcare, reveals that, over the past two years, there’s been  a sea change in local patient sentiment towards the possibility of using artificial intelligence (AI) and advanced computer technology to deliver medical solutions.  Back in 2016, a similar PwC survey found that Northern Ireland patients were the least receptive to using artificial intelligence in healthcare (33% compared to the UK average of 31%).

The latest PwC reports says that more than 1 in 6 NI patients would be willing to talk to a robot that could diagnose a condition and recommend treatment, compared to 1 in 10 in the UK as a whole.

In addition, 56% of NI patients would be willing to access advice and information from an intelligent healthcare assistant via a smartphone or similar device in preference to any  contact with health professionals, almost 10% higher than the UK average (47%). One in five said they would be ‘very willing’ to accept this.

Surprisingly, in just two years, the number of people in Northern Ireland who would be ‘very willing’ for a sick child or parent to receive medical advice from an  intelligent healthcare assistant from 1% to 16%. Over the same period, the UK average has moved from just 6% to 7%.

And 3% of NI respondents said they would be willing for an advanced computer to deliver their baby: the UK average was 0%.

The openness amongst NI patients to embrace advanced computer technologies in a wide variety of medical situations could enable a raft of transformations to improve healthcare delivery for the benefit of patients. Areas that have also undergone huge shifts in local opinion include having minor, non- or minimally-invasive surgery carried out by AI (up from 4% in 2016 to 17% in 2018), and major, invasive surgery (increased from 2% in 2016 to 16% in 2018).

The use of AI and the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) is also higher in Northern Ireland where more people use wearable fitness bands (17% compared to 13%) and calorie or diet-tracking apps (11% compared to 8%). The number of people using exercise apps in Northern Ireland is double that the UK average  (8% to 4%).

An indicator perhaps why patients in Northern Ireland have experienced this change can be found in the most popular answer to the question: ‘what the biggest advantage of using AI for healthcare?’ 40%  said speed and ease of access - almost double the number who opted for this answer in 2016 (21%).

Since 2016, according to figures from the Department for Health, the number of patients in Northern Ireland w more than 26 weeks for a diagnosis has increased from 9.4% (9,675) in March 2017 to 17.1% (18,598) in March 2018, and a commitment made that by March 2018 no patient should wait longer than 52 weeks for a first outpatient appointment has not been met.

Seamus Cushley, Digital Disruption lead at PwC NI commented:

“AI frequently gets a bad press but this report demonstrates that there is a fast-growing desire to see it implemented in settings which need radical attention. This 180º turnabout in Northern Ireland is remarkable but, when set against the day-to-day reality of the current healthcare system, makes perfect sense.

“AI is becoming increasingly sophisticated at doing what humans can do but more efficiently, quicker and at a lower cost. Introducing disruptive, innovative technologies that support healthcare professionals and free them to be engaged in priority patient care will benefit everyone.”

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