“Artificial Intelligence” (AI) is certainly experiencing the shiny object spotlight in 2023. In all industries, the “what if’s” around the use of AI range from massive upsides in efficiency to looming downsides of impending elimination of entire teams. At the DHC Group, our goal to help shape the future of digital health means we focus on upcoming challenges and industry advancements, and provide insights to help prepare decision makers for the evolving digital health landscape. This summer, we started a research series on Current and Future AI Trends in Healthcare, where we surveyed over 150 physicians, and conducted both qualitative and quantitative research with pharma industry members from 20 different companies.

Here are 4 key takeaways from our research:

Physicians Are Already Bought In On (And Using) AI

Fielded on the Sermo network, our survey of 150+ physicians showed that 80% of physicians are using AI now – 45% use it both professionally and personally. Another 32% dabble in it in their personal lives only. We asked them to describe how they are using AI in their own words, and the results were inspiring. It’s clear that the role of AI in healthcare has the potential to make a significant difference in patient health outcomes, with the right guardrails (more on that later). Responses to the question “what are some examples of how you have used AI“ included: “to provide more comprehensive differential diagnoses as well as more thorough medical evaluations”, “to help write a short summary of information about conditions”, “to assist with remote consultations, allowing clinicians to provide medical advice and treatment to patients regardless of their location. This can help to reduce the burden of travel on clinicians and increase access to care for patients”, “[to write] letters of necessity for coverage, medication needs and side effects for patients.” 

Pharma Adoption is Slower and More Complex

We surveyed experts from 20 companies within the pharmaceutical industry. The respondents represented a diverse set of stakeholders from pharma companies, agencies, tech companies, and publishers. They overwhelmingly agreed, while there is plenty of opportunity on the horizon, pharma is not significantly using generative AI now. This should be encouraging to marketers out there who are still seeking to understand the role of AI – you don’t have to have it figured out yet.  50% of the experts we surveyed are confident that AI will have a significant impact on the fundamentals of both consumer and HCP marketing in the future, but the industry isn’t there yet. eHealthcare Solutions Founder and CEO, R.J. Lewis, was future looking: “We are moving into a realm where AI could be used to not just analyze and predict the next best engagement/action NBE/A, but also to write emails and ad copy, create appropriate and relevant images for campaigns, and orchestrate its own recommendations on who is to receive what, and when in each channel. Elements of this are happening today but expect the human involvement to decrease as AI picks up more of the workload. Layering in Rx and claims data as well as a deep data set of physicians’ online behaviors will also empower AI to conduct predictive risk analysis to pre-empt and avoid brand switching, move customers from trial to usage, etc.”

Everyone Agrees AI Needs Guardrails

Conversations about AI always turn quickly to the risks. So in both research efforts, we gave the participants a chance to share their perspectives on the potential downsides of expanding the role of AI in healthcare. From the HCP perspective, the major areas of concern are: Ethics and Legal Responsibility, Data Quality and Accuracy, Job Displacement, Training and Implementation, Impact of Patient Care, Bias and Misuse, and Dependency and Overreliance. When we asked the pharma experts about their concerns, it should not be surprising that Regulatory topped the list. Three other survey response options tied for 2nd: Data Privacy and Security, and Ethical Concerns, and Bias & Fairness. We gave respondents a chance to explain in more detail, and Ashley Pippin (former Director at Novartis Global Biome) elaborated, “Solving how to report AEs or the privacy issue. It needs to be solved instead of just saying ‘no, it won’t work.’” Mark Pappas, SVP of Growth and Innovation at CMI Media Group highlighted a concern when he shared, “Trust. How patients will feel if they know the content was generated leveraging AI instead of having that human touch patients crave when dealing with a life-altering condition.”

The Potential Upside for Patients is Worth Figuring It Out

We have already established that physicians are further down the AI adoption path, and it might be because they have already seen the results. 65% agreed that AI has had a net positive impact on the practice of medicine to date. And even more exciting, over 55% of HCPs surveyed predict that AI will have a significant positive effect on patient care over the next 5 years. Meanwhile, 95% of the pharma experts agreed that AI will have an impact on patient support programs. R.J. Lewis (eHealthcare Solutions) explained, “AI can be used to personalize information to patients by predictively understanding where each patient is on their journey and surfacing the most relevant and timely information for them at their stage. It can also be used to personalize copy (reading levels) and imagery (relatability) for each patient.  Delivering such content experiences in as timely touches based on a predictive analysis of their needs.”

Read the complete POV AI Trends on Current and Future Healthcare (Parts One and Two) here.