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PwC: Consumers ready to embrace AI and robots for their healthcare needs

Will artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics in medicine replace the human clinician? Not yet, but healthcare is changing and the public is ready. According to a PwC study, a majority of consumers are willing to receive care from these advanced technologies, which have the potential to transform healthcare delivery to make it better, faster and more accessible for all.

2017-04-11 20:31:21

Findings show that:

• 55 per cent of consumers are willing to replace human doctors with AI and robots
• Willingness varies widely from 39 per cent in the UK to 94 per cent in Nigeria
• Accessibility and accuracy seen as benefits, while trust and the human element are key challenges
• Report highlights next steps for government, business and the profession

The findings are explored in PwC's report –What doctor? Why AI and robotics will define New Health – which is based on a commissioned survey of over 11,000 people from 12 countries across Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Across the region, more than half of respondents (55 per cent) said they were willing to use advanced computer technology or robots with AI that can answer health questions, perform tests, make a diagnosis and recommend treatment.

Three main themes emerged from the findings:
• People are increasingly willing to engage with AI and robots if it means better access to healthcare
• Speed and accuracy of diagnosis and treatment is a critical factor for this willingness
• Trust in the technology is vital for wider use and adoption; the ‘human touch' remains a key component of the healthcare experience.
Emerging markets are most open to rely on technology for their care
For all questions throughout the survey, a pattern emerged between developed and emerging economies. People in countries with well-established, and therefore less flexible, healthcare systems (UK and Western/North Europe) were willing to engage with a non-human healthcare provider, but less so than those in emerging markets where healthcare is still being shaped and formed.

The survey found that even in the operating theatre, respondents would be willing for a robot to perform a minor surgical procedure instead of a doctor, with close to half and up to 73 per cent of all respondents willing. Respondents in Nigeria, Turkey and South Africa were the most willing to undergo minor surgery performed by robots (73 per cent, 66 per cent and 62 per cent respectively), with the UK the least willing (36 per cent).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the situation changed dramatically when it came to major surgery, such as replacement of a knee or hip joint, removal of a tumour, or heart surgery. Even so, a significant percentage of respondents are still willing to undergo major surgery performed by a robot: ranging from 69 per cent in Nigeria to 40 per cent in the Netherlands and 27 per cent in the UK.

The survey also explored the key drivers for a person's willingness or unwillingness to use an AI-enabled or robotic health procedure or service. Easier and quicker access to healthcare services (36 per cent) and speed and accuracy of diagnoses (33 per cent) were the primary motivators for willingness, with lack of trust in robots being able to make decisions (47 per cent) and lack of the human touch (41 per cent) as the primary reasons for their reluctance. Although percentages varied across countries, these top two advantages and disadvantages were cited in this order across all countries with the exception of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, where respondents felt the lack of ‘human touch' was the biggest disadvantage.

Dr Tim Wilson, Middle East Health Industries Leader, PwC, says: "Whether we like it or not, AI and robotics are the future of healthcare. Access to quality, affordable healthcare, and good health for everyone are the ultimate goals. The economic and social advantages to be gained from integrating AI and robotics seamlessly into our existing healthcare systems, and then creating new models of healthcare based on these technologies, are enormous."

Next steps for government, business and the profession:
• Governments need to create quality standards and a regulatory framework which are applicable to and obligatory for the entire healthcare sector, as well as the appropriate incentives for adopting new approaches.
• Healthcare professionals need to understand how AI and robotics have the potential to work for and with them in a medical setting as well as throughout the healthcare eco-system, and be open to change.
• Patients need to become more accustomed to AI and robots and discover its benefits for themselves.
• The private sector developing AI and robotics need to create solutions to solve the big issues of demand and resource that every health system faces. In essence, by providing AI and robotic-driven solutions, the private sector has the opportunity to disrupt healthcare for the good.
• Decision-makers at healthcare institutions need to develop an evidence base, measure the success and the effectiveness of the new technology and prioritise and focus on what consumers want and need.

Dean Arnold, Europe, Middle East, Africa Leader, Health Industries, PwC, says: "It's clear that people are becoming more and more willing to embrace new technologies such as AI and robotics for their healthcare needs. But governments, businesses and the healthcare profession as a whole need to start thinking very differently about how we provide healthcare to our citizens. We need to think very carefully about our implementation strategy for different parts of the world. There will be challenges for all of us."

The survey was conducted in November 2016 by YouGov, and 11,086 people from 12 countries participated in an online survey, including: nationally representative samples for Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Turkey and the UK and urban representative samples for Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, and the UAE.

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