Pharma and AI: Help doctors with AI assistants but don’t try to replace them

Patients are more interested in AI assistance for doctors, not a physician replacement, when it comes to their healthcare. (Pixabay)

Dr. Robot gets a thumbs down from patients, according to new research from Syneos Health. Despite tech and investor enthusiasm, along with media headlines highlighting artificial intelligence in healthcare, patients are adamant that artificial intelligence should not replace doctors.

Sixty percent say "no thanks" to AI doctors, and only 16% of those surveyed saw value in “receiving a prescription or treatment recommendation from an AI assistant.”

However, the sentiment swings more positive when AI shifts to a supporting role. Patients were much more receptive when asked about ways AI can help doctors and nurses do their jobs, Syneos found.

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“Sixty-four percent of people would be comfortable being supported between visits by a virtual nurse assistant providing support and monitoring for a specific prescription product,” said Duncan Arbour, senior VP of digital strategy & innovation for healthcare at Syneos, formerly inVentiv Health. “The key benefit is that people want that 24/7 access to answers.

"The No. 2 benefit that people perceive in being assisted by a virtual nursing assistant is freeing up real human medical staff to spend more time with those who need it the most," Arbour added.

That’s a relief for healthcare providers who may be concerned about AI hype from the tech and investor sector—namely, that doctors could be replaced by machines. But what about pharma? How do drugmakers fit into an AI-assisted patient scenario?

RELATED: Which trends will impact pharma marketers in 2018? InVentiv has a few ideas

The bad news: Patients still don’t trust pharma companies, and that extends to artificial intelligence innovations drugmakers might create. The good news, though, is that pharma clients, such as physicians and other healthcare professionals, do trust pharma.

“The opportunity lies within the trusted relationship that pharma does have with KOLs and physicians. Pharma companies are the recognized experts in their own products, even with patients,” Arbour said.

“The opportunity is to look for new partnerships to raise education and support physician audiences in developing the best virtual nurse assistants," he said. "It has to be less about putting your brand on it and more about making sure that any AI treatment or recommendation is correct.”

Syneos surveyed 800 European and American patients with atrial fibrillation, Type 2 diabetes or breast cancer, along with 200 caregivers for people with Parkinson’s disease for the research.

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