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Concerns raised as GPs embrace AI to ease workload

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RNZ

03 July 2024, 9:32 PM

Concerns raised as GPs embrace AI to ease workloadPhoto: RNZ

GPs say using artificial intelligence (AI) during consultations with patients is taking a load off a severely burnt-out workforce.


Hundreds have turned to AI to help manage workloads as burnout and stress hit critical levels.



AI is largely unregulated within the health sector.


The generative AI listens and creates notes during the consultation and provides a summary which the doctor checks, before copy and pasting it into the patient's file.


The transcripts do not identify the patient and AI stores them only temporarily.



Wellington GP Richard Medlicott has been using AI for nearly a year and said it has has been helping to manage workloads.


"Look it's not the key but anything which can help our load is helpful. For me personally partly the time but also that cognitive load. It's really an intense business being a GP, listening carefully, emoting, summarising and that kind of intense conversation you have multiple times a day, can just get mentally tiring."


He said he was able to look patients in the eye while they talked and when doing a physical examination, he has to be more communicative for the software to take note.


The response from patients has been so good, Dr Medlicott now uses the appointment text reminders to get consent to use the software.


Co-owner of Papatoetoe Family Clinic Dr Karl Cole said the software he used, NABLA Copilot, was a gamechanger.


He did extensive research under the guidance of the Medical Protection Society to ensure the software has a privacy level he was happy with.


"The next step is going to be it will be hooked into the health records to guide [doctors]. It will know your age, it will know what problems you've had in the past, perhaps give you prompts to what to do.


"At the moment I'm staying away from that because I'm very concerned it is not tested correctly."


Dr Luke Bradford Photo: Supplied via RNZ


Dr Cole said AI was having an astronomical impact on doctors' wellbeing, with some crediting it for saving them hours of work each day.


"When we get more tired, and you've seen 35 patients and you're just rushing and you're trying to do five things at once ... it drains you.


"When I first was using it I felt like I was cheating."


But not everyone thinks it's such a good idea just yet.


College of GPS medical director Luke Bradford understood the allure of AI.


"Because it is advancing so quickly, because it hasn't been built through our training and accreditation processes as yet it's really important that we get the ethics and governance in place for use.


"At present it's really important that we ensure that confidentiality is assured, that sovereignty is assured, that consent occurs."


Dr Bradford wanted more regulation to be introduced before AI became mainstream.


This comes as the government aims to expand the use of artificial intelligence in the public service, particularly in health and education.