Most doctors have not yet tried AI but are 'cautiously optimistic' about the benefits

The hype around healthcare artificial intelligence has reached a fever pitch, but most doctors are holding back from trying it out in their medical practice, for now.

A recent survey by Elation Health found that 67% of primary care physicians have not yet tried an AI-powered medical scribe solution and are looking to electronic health record vendors to guide them to the best option that integrates with their system. 

Among those who are holding off, doctors report lack of confidence in accuracy and a lack of integration or access through existing tools, along with no time to research options, as key obstacles to adoption, according to the survey of 229 primary care physicians.

AI scribe tools use speech recognition and natural language processing to capture and transcribe conversations between a physician and a patient during clinical encounters. Elation Health is an EHR company that provides technology to primary care physicians.

The survey results revealed some key obstacles to ongoing adoption of AI-based tools in medical practice.

"Before this year, AI scribe technology hasn’t been good or accessible enough. The survey results from Elation confirm what we’ve seen anecdotally –  there’s a lot of appetite for this technology, yet bringing on a brand new vendor and navigating integrations with your existing EHR can cause friction that slows the speed of adoption," Phill Tornroth, vice president of engineering and AI innovation lead at Elation Health, said in an interview with Fierce Healthcare.

PCPs want these tools to be thoughtfully integrated into their existing clinical workflows and systems, he noted. "They’d also love to work with vendors they already trust, whenever possible," Tornroth said.

Of those surveyed, 33% reported they are already trialing AI scribe technologies. This group of early adopters reports being relatively dissatisfied with current solutions, expressing the need for more advanced features that better support template personalization, patient education materials and automation of repetitive processes like lab, imaging and referral orders, according to Elation Health.

For those who have tried AI scribing and have decided not to purchase yet, they are also looking to EHR vendors to provide a solution.

“While there’s a lot of early interest in AI tools in the clinical setting, it is clear that there are still many perceived risks right now for most physicians,” said Dr. Steven Waldren, M.D., chief medical informatics officer at the American Association of Family Physicians.

“It is more important than ever for healthcare technology vendors to lean on industry best practices and guidance standards when it comes to integrating AI, he noted, pointing to AAFP's Ethical Application of Artificial Intelligence in Family Medicine guidelines.

When considering how AI would be applied within their practices, independent primary care physicians who have not yet tested AI scribe tools were optimistic that this technology could see save them time and reduce the drudgery of paperwork. About 93% anticipate reduced documentation burden, and 84% hope to reduce "pajama time," the survey found.

They also anticipate benefits to the clinician care experience with 83% expecting higher quality documentation, 81% expecting reduced cognitive burden and 89% hoping for improved job satisfaction.

Most doctors (84%) also expect these tools will improve patient focus and anticipate more time for care coordination.

"Two things have really stood out to me — the first is the sheer time savings reported by early adopters. We’re hearing regularly from providers using this technology that it’s saving them hours in documentation time each day," Tornroth said.

"The other thing that’s been remarkable is that we’ve seen that some of the earliest adopters of these tools include providers that struggle the most with technology in general – it’s kind of the opposite of who you typically think about trying brand-new technologies, which could be an indication of the level of help providers are looking to get from these technologies. Meaning, providers who recognize their current clinical inefficiencies are more willing to look for solutions than ever before," he said.

Tornroth added, "Advancements in generative AI have absolutely made a step-function difference in the total value the tools in this product category are providing. The things that generative AI is particularly good at addressing map very well to so many of the tasks that drive administrative burden we’re working so hard to reduce or eliminate for providers."

Elation Health's survey results mirror findings from American Medical Association research examining physicians' views on AI in healthcare. 

About 38% of physicians reported they currently use AI tools to help with case discharge instructions, care plans or progress notes (14%), documentation of billing codes, medical charts or visit notes (13%), translation services (11%) and assistive diagnosis (11%), based on AMA's survey of about 1,000 doctors.

Doctors feel an equal mix of excitement and concern about healthcare AI, the AMA survey found. Enthusiasm was highest for AI tools that help reduce administrative burdens, including documentation (54%) and prior authorization (48%). AI tools were most helpful for enhancing diagnostic ability (72%), workflow efficiency (69%) and clinical outcomes (61%).

But doctors are concerned about the impact to the patient-physician relationship and patient privacy. The top attributes required to advance physician adoption of AI tools were data privacy assurances (87%) and not being held liable for AI model errors (87%).

Transparency is key for AI tools with about 80% of physicians indicating they want clear information about key characteristics and features regarding the design, development and deployment of AI tools.

“Physicians are optimistic about the advantages that properly designed AI-enabled tools can have for patient care, and nearly two-thirds of physicians see an advantage to AI if key requirements are met,” said AMA President Jesse M. Ehrenfeld, M.D., who is board certified in both anesthesiology and clinical informatics. “The AMA survey illustrates that physicians’ greatest hope for AI rests in reducing the crushing administrative burdens that plague modern medicine, which drain healthcare resources and pull physicians away from patient care.”