Psychiatrists Not in Fear of Artificial Intelligence, Survey Finds

Aug. 5, 2019
“It is time for us to stop thinking about AI as a battle of machines versus humans,” said one professor involved in the research

A study of nearly 800 psychiatrists across 22 countries revealed that just 4 percent of respondents believe artificial intelligence (AI) is likely to make psychiatrists’ jobs obsolete.

The new survey from Sermo, a social platform for physicians and a healthcare professional survey company, also found that only 17 percent of respondents believe AI is likely to replace human empathy. The report, released in partnership with psychiatry and health technology researchers at Duke University School of Medicine and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School, focuses on the potential impact of AI and machine learning (ML) on the field of psychiatry.

Respondents were asked to assess the likelihood that future technology would be able to replace — not just assist — human doctors in performing complex psychiatric tasks. The majority of psychiatrists also indicated that future technology would be unlikely to replace human doctors for complex tasks such as a mental status exam (67 percent), assessing risk for violence (58 percent) and determining need for hospitalization (55 percent).

There were only two tasks that the majority felt technology would likely replace: providing patient documentation such as updating medical records (75 percent) and synthesizing patient information to reach diagnoses (54 percent).

“It is time for us to stop thinking about AI as a battle of machines versus humans. We need to instead focus on how AI can optimize and improve clinicians’ abilities to deliver better care,” said Dr. Murali Doraiswamy, professor in the departments of psychiatry and medicine at Duke, and Dr. Charlotte Blease, research fellow in General Medicine at Harvard, both who partnered with Sermo on the research.

According to the researchers, the survey provides “the first global snapshot of the current state of thinking among practicing psychiatrists about the risks and benefits of future technologies.”

They noted that the skepticism and uncertainty expressed by doctors could be due to several reasons. One possibility is they are cautious of the hype around AI and may be placing high value on human interaction and personalized professional analysis. Another possible explanation could be that respondents are underestimating the pace of technological change.

“The findings from this survey also raise questions about the preparedness of the profession to navigate technological change in the delivery of patient care,” Blease said.

While doctors were skeptical about the prospects of AI/ML replacing them, one in two psychiatrists felt that future technologies would significantly transform their jobs. Psychiatrists also predicted that AI/ML could aid in several ways such as more accurate diagnosis, reducing administrative burden, 24/7 monitoring, individualized drug targets to reduce side effects, integration of new streams of data from wearables and genetics, reducing human errors and elucidating etiologies that are opaque to them.

Doctors also identified many ethical and safety concerns of AI. “This should be a high priority for research since even a single line of bad code could have serious repercussions,” cautioned Doraiswam