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Are chatbots replacing doctors? It’s not what people want

Dr Bayju Thakar, a former NHS doctor and founder of Doctor Care Anywhere, questions the haste with which new technologies are being embraced in healthcare and calls for greater engagement with patients and clinicians

What the results told us on that was striking: 61% of respondents opted for either a phone call or a video chat; strip out the ‘don’t know’ and ‘none of the above’, and around 90% of those open to alternatives went for remote consultation of some kind. The message here seems loud and clear. People generally recognise that, sometimes, there are ways of getting care that don’t require them to visit a clinic; but when considering alternatives, there’s an overwhelming preference for maintaining contact with a clinician. This doesn’t surprise me – I know from my own time as a doctor how much people value the patient-clinician bond – I just wish more people were aware of it.

Artificial intelligence, on the other hand, is not in great demand. The national appetite for automated health tools like AI chatbots came out in single figures: an average of 7% across all age groups. 7% is, let’s be frank, a woeful degree of appetite for any emerging technology. It’s clearly no basis for adoption at scale, and certainly not on the public purse through the National Health Service. And this wasn’t a standard sample size, either – at 4,200 respondents it came to a good four times the size of your everyday representative poll. Frankly, I think we need to dial back the hype around AI until we know people out there actually want it.

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