US patients believe generative AI can improve healthcare access, affordability, survey finds

As the industry continues to debate the promise and risks of artificial intelligence in healthcare, patients are bullish on the potential for generative AI to improve access and even lower healthcare costs.

More than half (53%) of U.S. consumers believe generative AI could improve access issues and shorten wait times for medical care, according to a survey by Deloitte's Center for Health Solutions. A little less than half of consumers (46%) say it has the potential to make healthcare more affordable.

Generative AI is artificial intelligence that creates original content across various modalities, e.g., text, images, audio, code, voice and video, that would have previously taken human skill and expertise to create.

Healthcare systems face rising costs, high interest rates, inflation and clinician burnout, but patients are optimistic technology may help alleviate some of these challenges, according to the survey results.

Consumers also are experimenting with generative AI tools like ChatGPT, and health was cited as a top reason for using the tools. Of those surveyed, 48% of consumers said they are using the technology while 84% have at least heard of it. Consumers find generative AI to be particularly reliable for healthcare, with the vast majority of these users (69%) rating the information as either very reliable or extremely reliable. The researchers found that 1 in 5 consumers who accessed generative AI for health and wellness used it to learn about medical conditions.

Patients also used it to understand treatment options (16%) and decipher technical language (15%).

Seventy-one percent of consumers currently using generative AI thought it could revolutionize healthcare delivery, according to the survey based on responses from 2,000 patients.

People who had experience with using generative AI had more optimism about its impact on healthcare—69% believe it could improve access issues and wait times and 63% said it could help lower individual healthcare costs.

"At a time when health care costs are a growing concern for many consumers, our survey shows that they believe Generative AI may be the key to reducing costs, improving access, and leveraging it to improve their well-being," said Asif Dhar, M.D., vice chair and U.S. life sciences and healthcare industry leader at Deloitte. "Hearing from consumers gives us valuable insights into areas of key concern to adopt this technology across health care. Their perspectives can help us define a roadmap for adoption and industry role out that both helps to protect consumers and supports providers, payers and innovators to develop solutions that can drive optimal outcomes."

The survey results come as the federal government prepares for widespread adoption in healthcare. On Oct. 30, the White House issued an executive order, which calls on the Department of Health and Human Services to establish an AI task force within 90 days that will develop policies and frameworks for the responsible use of generative AI.

Consumers appear to be on board with clinicians who use generative AI to provide additional information about their conditions and treatment options as well as for reviewing or interpreting lab results.

Patients seem to be less comfortable with providers who might use generative AI for decisions about their care including diagnosis, triage and nature of treatment. The research also found that 4 in 5 consumers think it is important or extremely important that their healthcare provider disclose when they are using generative AI for their health needs.

Consumer preferences about generative AI could encourage healthcare organizations to develop transparent processes and design regulatory and patient protection programs that reflect consumer concerns, Deloitte researchers said.

With the government and consumers coming on board, healthcare organizations should consider how generative AI could help increase trust, improve the patient experience and help make care more customer-centric, Dhar, Bill Fera, M.D., principal at Deloitte Consulting and Leslie Korenda, research manager, Deloitte Services, Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, wrote in a blog post.

Hospitals and health systems might, for example, use generative AI to respond to patients after hours, triage patients to the best care setting or answer questions about symptoms or medications, Dhar, Fera and Korenda wrote. "It could also be used to create personalized health information, help diagnose symptoms, present treatment options, summarize dense health care literature, offer wellness tips, or recommend clinicians. Given that the technology is still relatively new, the usage is likely to increase significantly in the coming months—especially if the pace of adoption continues at the current trajectory," the Deloitte executives wrote.

People who lack health coverage are more likely than insured consumers to use generative AI for healthcare, including mental health support, to find a doctor or to identify the most appropriate care site, whether it's an emergency room, a doctor’s office or urgent care. This might indicate the potential of generative AI to help address affordability, the Deloitte executives noted.

The results of the Deloitte survey mirror those from a consumer poll released earlier this month. A survey from Medtronic and Morning Consult found that more than half (51%) of U.S. adults are optimistic new applications of artificial intelligence will lead to major advancements and breakthroughs in healthcare in the year ahead.

Some of the highest levels of optimism for AI in healthcare are around diagnoses and improving healthcare access. In fact, roughly 6 in 10 adults (61%) agree one of the main benefits of using AI in healthcare is to diagnose and detect health conditions. About two-thirds (65%) of adults agree technology can help break down barriers to healthcare with more than half (56%) saying AI (specifically) can be beneficial in improving healthcare access, the Medtronic survey found.

Consumers view the potential for AI to make mistakes as one of the largest barriers. And 80% say lack of basic understanding and evidence that AI improves health outcomes are risks of using it.

Consumers have a favorable opinion of using AI to manage their health but report they aren't ready for their physician to use it extensively. Only roughly one-third (36%) say they would prefer to work with a physician who uses AI, and only 1 in 5 (20%) would want their doctor to use AI extensively.

However, when presented with specific ways a physician might use AI, Americans are more open. Two-thirds (67%) say they'd be likely to work with a physician who uses AI to analyze tests, X-rays and CT scans. More than half say the same for detecting cancer (62%).

"While skepticism is natural, the survey found strong optimism around the potential of AI in healthcare. And the reality is, the way we engage with AI will likely look radically different five to 10 years from now. That said, there is one thing I'm certain of—the responsible, ethical use of AI has the power to radically improve healthcare for both patients and doctors," Ken Washington, chief technology and innovation officer at Medtronic, in a statement.

"Here's the bottom line—AI can't be a substitute for human judgment and experience. he said. "To this end, I cannot imagine a future where AI will replace doctors. But I can envision a future where AI is ubiquitous in healthcare, creating better experiences and outcomes that patients will prefer."