Artificial intelligence (AI) has rapidly found its place in the world of medicine, with doctors leveraging its capabilities to enhance patient care. However, as AI becomes increasingly sophisticated in providing data to healthcare professionals, a stark contrast emerges: the information available to patients has stagnated. While AI helps doctors make informed decisions, patients often struggle to access reliable comparative information about healthcare providers. This glaring gap in information availability has significant implications for patient empowerment and healthcare transparency.
In today’s digital age, there is more data available for predicting the performance of a local sports team than for making critical healthcare decisions. Whether it’s a cancer diagnosis, the need for knee replacement surgery, or facing a complex heart procedure, patients encounter difficulties in finding up-to-date and reliable comparative information about healthcare providers. Frequently, the available data is outdated, making it challenging for patients to make informed choices regarding their medical care.
In contrast, AI-powered conversational agents like ChatGPT and Google’s Bard offer a unique source of information. Patients can now identify the most experienced knee replacement surgeon in Chicago, access survival statistics for breast cancer patients at renowned Los Angeles medical centers, or receive recommendations for top cardiac surgeons in New York City. The potential benefits are enormous, but the reliability of AI-generated information remains a concern.
The reliability challenge
Generative AI occasionally “hallucinates,” fabricating information or citing dubious sources. This inconsistency raises concerns about the accuracy of AI-generated recommendations. Nevertheless, the emergence of AI as a tool for providing quality-of-care information is a double-edged sword. It highlights the prospect of granting patients newfound informational power precisely when AI regulation and legislation are at the forefront of policy discussions.
The dynamics between doctors and patients are evolving in the age of AI. Patients are increasingly comfortable discussing internet-sourced treatment advice, with AI suggestions serving as authoritative summaries of online research. However, the conversation takes a significant turn when patients bring data about a doctor’s past performance into the discussion. When patients inquire about infection rates, surgical mortality, or outcomes for patients similar to themselves, doctors are faced with three uncomfortable options: ignorance, non-disclosure, or transparent discussion based on accurate information.
AI is poised to act as a transparency catalyst by challenging the status quo of information control. A more equitable patient-provider relationship is something to celebrate, but individuals and institutions accustomed to controlling information for financial gain may resist change. Arguments may arise that the public needs protection from potentially inaccurate information about healthcare quality. Instead of suppressing information, the response should be to ensure that AI tools providing clinical performance insights are as accurate and comprehensible as possible.
Patients must become full partners in the collaboration to define information roles, rules, and relationships in the digital age. Despite years of talk about “consumerism” and “patient-centered care,” this collaboration has not fully materialized. Hospitals are required to disclose prices for common procedures, but this information only covers half of the value equation. Data on the quality of care in relation to cost is scarce. Medicare’s Compare website provides limited information on hospital death rates and complication rates for specific conditions, but the freshness of this data remains unclear.
Reforming healthcare transparency requires a holistic approach. Patients, healthcare providers, and policymakers must work together to bridge the information gap. Patients need access to reliable, up-to-date information about the quality of care provided by hospitals and physicians. Transparency should extend beyond cost considerations to encompass the effectiveness and safety of medical treatments.
AI is a game-changing force in the healthcare industry, offering both doctors and patients valuable insights. While the reliability of AI-generated information remains a concern, it has the potential to empower patients and transform the doctor-patient relationship. Instead of suppressing information, stakeholders should focus on ensuring the accuracy and comprehensibility of AI tools.
This collaborative effort can usher in a new era of healthcare transparency, where patients have the information they need to make informed decisions about their health and well-being.