How willing are we to let a robot be our future doctor?

30 May 2017

Image: graphbottles/Shutterstock

When it comes to the future of our healthcare, some countries are more eager than others to hand the job over to robots and AI.

Life Sciences Week 2017

While we now use smartphones to order our coffee on our commute to work or conduct our banking, a visit to the doctor has remained largely the same, from booking an appointment to getting a prescription.

Future Human

This is set to change rapidly in the coming years as healthcare providers welcome the latest developments in artificial intelligence (AI) to help diagnose conditions and make appointments.

Some countries more eager than others

A report recently conducted by PwC into the general public’s willingness for such change finds that some regions of the world are far more eager to be treated by AI than others.

Entitled, What doctor? Why AI and robotics will define new health, the report surveyed 11,000 people from 12 countries across Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

It found that more than half of respondents (55pc) said they were willing to use advanced computer technology or robots with AI to answer health questions, perform tests, make a diagnosis and recommend treatment.

This indicates that people are keen to remove face-to-face appointments in order to obtain their diagnosis and treatment much faster than they would with a human.

Perhaps the biggest finding was that those in countries with less-developed healthcare systems were considerably more willing to deal with AI and robots than those in developed nations.

For example, while Nigerian respondents overwhelmingly backed dealing with an AI assistant (95pc), in the UK, less than half of respondents (47pc) felt the same way.

Similar patterns were seen in other areas, with 69pc of Nigerian respondents willing to undergo minor surgery using a robot, compared with just 27pc in the UK.

PwC survey

Image: PwC

No denying AI future in healthcare

For those unwilling to let technology overtake the medical process, the biggest worries were the robot or AI’s lack of flexibility in decision-making (47pc) and the absence of human touch (41pc).

When asked what types of procedures they would be willing to let robots conduct, a considerable majority said they would allow them to monitor various conditions such as pulse and ECG (41pc).

Just 1pc of respondents said they would allow a robot to deliver their baby whereas, on a national level, 4pc of Turkish candidates said they would be OK with the procedure.

PwC said that those on the sceptical side will have to face some new realities in the years and decades to come.

“Whether we like it or not, AI and robotics are the future of healthcare,” said Dr Tom Wilson, Middle East health industries leader at PwC.

“The economic and social advantages to be gained from integrating AI and robotics seamlessly into our existing healthcare systems, and then creating new models of healthcare based on these technologies, are enormous.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic