May 21, 2024

How Patients are Using AI: Risks, Benefits, and Trends That Providers Need to Know

Delora Crowley   |   Updated May 29   |  Reading time: 7 minutes

Future Of AI Blog

Artificial intelligence (AI) has permeated virtually every industry—from finance and transportation to healthcare. Within healthcare facilities, AI has started to make an impact, being used to streamline processes and support physicians to better care for patients. But healthcare professionals aren’t the only ones using AI; patients are utilizing the technology as part of their personal health journey, too. 

Below, we’ll explore the multifaceted ways today’s patients are leveraging AI in their personal and family healthcare. We’ll look at the benefits, risks, and trends to be aware of so you can anticipate patient questions and provide up-to-date guidance.

3 Ways Patients are Using AI to Manage Their Health

One of the biggest factors that has propelled generative AI and similar technologies like machine learning (ML) to such heights of recent popularity is their human-like versatility, which has made patients curious about using these technologies for mental health support, health diagnoses, and well-being advice. We’ll review these in more detail below.

AI for Mental Health Support

According to Mental Health America, roughly 21% of adults in the U.S. have at least one mental disorder—that’s about 50 million people. Getting timely, helpful mental health support can be difficult. Many Americans (10.8%) are uninsured and unable to pay for mental health care. Even those who have insurance or the financial means to access mental health care may face cultural stigma around seeking help, or simply be unsure where to start.

These circumstances recently fueled the rise of telehealth and text-based therapy services. Now, they have led many individuals to take the technological path even farther and seek mental health support via AI. AI offers an alluring alternative option for individuals grappling with anxiety, depression, or other mental health problems by allowing them to converse with AI-powered chatbots at little to no cost. Plus, these chatbots are available 24/7, providing on-demand help whenever it’s needed. 

Online-only therapy startups have faced a rocky road given their high demands on mental health practitioners and focus on business growth over quality-of-care, which paints the AI alternative as a potentially valuable supplement for patients and providers alike. However, the American Counseling Association points out that there are risks associated with AI therapy tools, including “the possibility of false claims or inaccurate information,” in addition to, “inequity in responses, where the AI may not be able to fully understand and respond to the diverse experiences and needs of all individuals.” 

They recommend AI tools be used as a supplement to the care of a human provider, so that patients can discuss the responses provided by the chatbot with a trained professional and receive deeper, more personalized guidance.

AI for Finding Health Information and Self Diagnosis

Numerous studies have found that individuals use the internet to search for information about medical symptoms, and around one-third of people in the U.S. use online tools to self-diagnose. Whether determining whether they need to see a doctor or simply looking for more information about a diagnosis, treatment, or prescription, the democratization of healthcare data and online health tools has led to more individuals using online health tools.

Many companies have begun using AI as a component of patient-facing diagnosis and treatment tools, tools such as Twill and Merative (also known as IBM Watson Health). Patients can input their symptoms, and the tool provides evidence-based diagnoses and recommendations for treatment. However, many patients are not using solutions developed or vetted by healthcare professionals in order to seek this kind of advice. 

In a scoping review of articles on AI self-diagnosis which was published in JMIR Medical Informatics, the authors note that many chatbot-style interfaces deliver potential diagnoses in a list of options that fit the provided symptoms, rather than delivering a single diagnosis. platforms generally provide a list of potential diagnoses rather than a single diagnosis. “The likelihood of a user to accurately choose the right diagnosis is associated with the sociodemographic profile/variables of a user, such as education and gender,” they said. This means that one patient may take from the list a likely-accurate diagnosis, and another may take away an inaccurate one that skews their perception. “Issues may arise if patients already have a diagnosis in mind when visiting their PCP as it could translate into disagreements regarding their condition.” 

It’s important to have proactive conversations with patients about these kinds of tools and their limitations so that you can avoid potential issues down the line. While an AI may be an interesting way to learn more about a certain condition or its treatment options, it should never be considered accurate medical advice in place of a professional diagnosis.

AI Wearables for Fitness and Well-being Advice

Wearable health devices have become increasingly popular in recent years. In fact, the National Health Institute found that one in three Americans use a wearable device to track their health and fitness. From fitness trackers to smartwatches, these devices can act as an individual’s health coach. They’re able to monitor heart rate, track steps, and even analyze sleep patterns. Beyond fitness trackers, wearables are also being used to manage chronic conditions and alert patients to risk factors like high blood pressure.

AI-powered varieties of these devices can automatically analyze a user’s data and provide personalized recommendations to the wearer, or insightful data to a provider. Based on this information, patients and their physician can then collaborate on lifestyle changes and other care strategies that may help improve the results.

Of the health applications of AI currently available to patients, wearables are one of the most innocuous and least risky. Although it varies by device, many wearables have proven to be very effective at collecting accurate information. Whether the recommendations of an AI software built into that hardware are accurate or helpful is difficult to assess, but they are generally trained on broadly-accepted standards around activity, diet, sleep, and more that can help supplement the advice and guidance of a patient’s healthcare provider.

The Benefits of AI in Managing Personal Health

Managing healthcare can feel overwhelming for patients. Navigating a slew of appointments, prescriptions, and medical jargon can be time-consuming and complicated. AI simplifies healthcare management, enabling patients to take back control of their health journey. Here are a few additional benefits:

Personalized insights: As mentioned above, AI-powered healthcare platforms and tools can easily analyze vast amounts of data, including medical records, genetic information, and lifestyle factors. The device can identify patterns, detect early warning signs, and offer recommendations for improving physical or mental health.

Increasing knowledge: AI-driven health platforms give individuals access to a wealth of medical information at their fingertips. Whether researching symptoms, exploring treatment options, or seeking preventive care advice, AI helps demystify complex medical concepts, enabling patients to make more informed decisions about their health.

Remote monitoring and management: Wearable devices powered by AI enable remote monitoring of vital signs, activity levels, and other health metrics. For individuals managing a chronic condition or simply wanting to improve their overall health, these devices provide real-time feedback and actionable insights and enable them to track progress and make lifestyle changes as needed.

Timely interventions: AI-driven health monitoring systems can detect deviations from normal health parameters, such as heart or breathing rates, and alert users to potential risks before they worsen. By providing early warning signs, these AI-powered devices can prevent complications and improve health outcomes.

Risks of Patients Using AI to Manage Their Health

While there are benefits to patients using AI to manage their health, there are some significant risks when people rely only on AI. It’s important for healthcare providers to be aware of these pitfalls and communicate about them with patients:

Misinterpretation of information: Despite the wealth of health information patients have access to, without the right context or expertise, patients may misinterpret that information. This can lead to inaccurate diagnoses, unnecessary anxiety, or inappropriate self-treatment.

Over-reliance on technology: Depending too heavily on AI for health management may increase an individual’s trust in healthcare professionals. This may lead patients to forgo seeking medical advice or delaying care. 

Algorithmic bias and inaccuracy: Despite advancements, AI algorithms are only as good as the data they’re trained on. If these datasets contain bias or inaccuracies, the tool may provide incorrect or skewed recommendations that can lead to suboptimal outcomes. The risk is even higher for those in marginalized or underrepresented groups.

Privacy concerns: Because AI-driven healthcare platforms rely on the collection and analysis of personal health information, there’s a growing concern around security. Without effective security practices in place, the risk of data breaches, unauthorized access, or misuse of personal health information is increased.

Loss of human connection: While AI-powered chatbots and virtual assistants are convenient and accessible, they can’t replace the empathy, understanding, and emotion of human healthcare providers. Relying solely on digital interactions may decrease the human connection necessary for effective patient care and support.

Ultimately, while AI does have the potential to enable patients to manage their care better, it’s critical to balance the benefits with the risks. Doing so allows you and your patients to maximize the benefits of AI while minimizing its potential drawbacks. This results in safe, effective, and patient-centered healthcare delivery.

Keep Your Patients Educated and Protected

As AI evolves, patients will likely continue to use AI-powered devices to manage and improve their health. As a healthcare provider, ensuring a good balance between automation and the human touch will be critical. Patients should feel that you care about their overall well-being and are willing to help them meet their healthcare needs and goals. They should feel just as comfortable coming to you for their healthcare as they do going online. 

Patients also need to be aware of the risks of AI-powered technologies. While it’s good for individuals to expand their knowledge of healthcare practices and prescriptions, they should know when it’s time to seek professional, in-person healthcare. Be sure to communicate those risks to your patients. Doing so shows you’re aware of (and maybe excited about) evolving technologies and their limitations. This can ultimately help you and your patient create a better healthcare plan that balances both technology and the human touch.

If you need help finding ways to stay engaged with your patients, we’re here to help. Contact a member of our team to learn more about how our software helps practices streamline patient communication and care.

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