Are people ready to embrace artificial intelligence and robotics in healthcare?
11 April 2017
The population of the UK is the least willing among 12 countries in Europe, the Middle East and Africa to consider using artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics as alternatives to traditional healthcare channels. That’s the finding of research that PwC commissioned to look into global variations in attitudes to healthcare technologies. So does that mean for the UK these technologies are likely to be a non-starter? Far from it. Nearly four out of ten (39%) people surveyed in the UK said that they would be willing to engage with AI and robotics for their healthcare. And extrapolating those findings to the wider population indicates a significant potential market.
What the survey also tells us is that the younger the demographic group, the more likely they are to see new health technologies in a positive light. Well over half of 18 to 24 year olds would be willing to engage with AI and robotics to take care of some of their health. And if even only a proportion started to use more services that could start to realize big savings. Those could, in turn, make a serious contribution to addressing the challenges facing the health system in the UK.
Willingness to engage with health technology is also more likely to be found in regions of the UK – Scotland and Wales in particular – that face challenges meeting demand and where pressure on existing resources and access is therefore particularly acute. That finding echoes the global picture. Populations with the least ready access to health services (for example Nigeria and Turkey) tend to be more enthusiastic about the potential of AI and robotics.
These findings suggest that there’s a real opportunity to start creating the channels that allow people to start engaging with new ways to manage and treat their health. The willingness to try these new potential channels ties into the cultural expectations of an increasingly digital generation, as well as the requirement to get access from a system that cannot always meet demand. For example, online GP services are starting to gain traction as people are finding it more convenient to have an online consultation that fits in with their lives. Businesses like Babylon, for example, are already extending the range of services and diagnostics that are possible through digital channels supported by AI.
But the opportunity should not be limited to private providers. There’s arguably more than sufficient potential in the one-third of the UK population who are willing to engage to support the development of pilots that could help the NHS to address the squeeze on demand it faces. For example, the survey results show that a large number of people would be willing to do more than simply use AI and robotics for monitoring and diagnosis. More than one-third (36%) would consider minor procedures such as cataract surgery (if it could be shown that the machine was better than a doctor) and as many as 27% would also be willing to consider major surgical procedures, such as a hip replacement or heart surgery, carried out by a robot. Since procedures tend to generate significant costs, this suggests a real opportunity to make substantial savings.
Rather than focusing on the majority that are not yet ready to use new technology for their healthcare, providers should focus their attention on the significant minority who are. Over time, as more people see the positive impacts that technology can have for those willing early adopters, the barriers to adoption may start to come down for everyone.
Given the pressures on the system today, new approaches will have to be found. That means everyone in the healthcare system – from patients to practitioners – needs to begin exploring alternative forms of delivery. There’s sizeable demand out there. Now’s the time to start addressing it.