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How doctors can use AI to have better conversations with patients

Originally posted on The Horizons Tracker.

Rarely are conversations as important as those between a doctor and their patient. Being able to communicate often complex and distressing information in a clear and understandable manner is crucial. A recent paper1 from researchers at Trinity College Dublin, the University of Edinburgh and The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice explores the possibility of using AI to improve the communication between doctor and patient.

“Many clinicians’ communications skills aren’t formerly assessed–either during school or in early practice. At the same time, there is a lot of evidence that clinicians often struggle when communicating with their patients. It’s hard to improve on something when you’re not being given any feedback and don’t know how you’re doing,” the authors say.

The researchers suggest that AI can help to improve doctors communication skills by giving them detailed and personalized assessments of their communication abilities. What’s more, it can do so at a much lower price than current methods. The authors believe the benefit can broadly be boiled down into three core areas:

  1. Analysis of words and phrases – by automating the analysis of words, the researchers believe that technology can help the doctor understand whether the patient understood them, and indeed whether they understood the patient. Eventually, they believe this analysis can be performed in real-time, with prompts given to doctors on how they can improve the conversation, and potentially even offer new treatments that the doctor themselves had not thought of.
  1. Turn-taking analysis – by looking at the amount of time each party spends talking, the researchers believe AI can help to assess the structure of the conversation. For instance, is the doctor allowing sufficient time for the patient to absorb the information and ask any questions they may have? The best conversations should be two-way discussions rather than a monologue. As before, eventually they believe the technology can provide real-time analysis and intervene when things are going badly awry.
  1. Tone and style of interactions – this form of analysis is already common in the aviation sector, with pilots communication assessed for its vocal pitch and energy. The authors believe that adopting a similar approach in healthcare could help to detect high-risk situations that place the doctor under extreme stress. It could also provide an insight into the patients’ mental wellbeing.

Whilst healthcare poses unique challenges in terms of the complexity of the language used, the researchers believe that AI can eventually prove to be invaluable in analyzing the effectiveness of communication between doctor and patient.

“Five years ago, the idea of using AI to analyze medical communication wouldn’t have been on anyone’s radar,” they conclude. “As the technology advances, it will be interesting to see whether healthcare systems can employ it effectively and whether providers will be open to using it as a tool for improving their communication skills.”

Article source: How Doctors Can Use AI To Have Better Conversations With Patients.


  1. Ryan, P., Luz, S., Albert, P., Vogel, C., Normand, C., & Elwyn, G. (2019). Using artificial intelligence to assess clinicians’ communication skills. Bmj, 364, l161.
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Adi Gaskell

I'm an old school liberal with a love of self organizing systems. I hold a masters degree in IT, specializing in artificial intelligence and enjoy exploring the edge of organizational behavior. I specialize in finding the many great things that are happening in the world, and helping organizations apply these changes to their own environments. I also blog for some of the biggest sites in the industry, including Forbes, Social Business News, Social Media Today and, whilst also covering the latest trends in the social business world on my own website. I have also delivered talks on the subject for the likes of the NUJ, the Guardian, Stevenage Bioscience and CMI, whilst also appearing on shows such as BBC Radio 5 Live and Calgary Today.

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