Artificial intelligence could cut GP workload and shorten appointments

Artificial intelligence apps could shave two to three minutes off GP appointments and filter out unnecessary appointments, GPs piloting the technology have said.

A GP running a pilot of an app called Ada said the technology would 'without a doubt' play a key role in the future of general practice, but added that it will not entirely replace human GPs just yet.

To use the app, patients create a profile by filling in their past medical history. They then enter in their symptoms and the app utilises an artificial intelligence engine to come up with possible causes, in a similar role to a real GP.

It produces a personalised report outlining possible causes, including those which are likely and less likely, along with next suggested steps. Patients can then choose to have follow-up video consultations with human GPs.

GP workload

Ada founder Dr Claire Novorol said the app could save up to 50% of a GP's time by aiding the diagnosis process, and research had shown over 90% agreement between GPs' and Ada's diagnoses.

She added that a current NHS trial, launched in a central London practice last month, could mark the ‘first step of what will be a collaborative and long approach with the NHS’, adding that talks were underway with CCGs and A&E departments.

The practice, which has 12,000 patients and four GPs, is using a tailor-made version of the app with its own patients for pre-assessment and online consultations. The practice and GPs piloting the system have asked not to be named until the pilot is complete.

It invited all patients over 18 to download the app via SMS text message, after which over 430 – 5% of its list – installed it. The practice said patients aged 18-71 were using the app.

‘The pilot is very specific, allows them to come to us – if they share an assessment, it comes to us,’ the lead pilot GP told GPonline.

Clinical summary

This means the patient’s own GP can see the summary report of their symptoms before seeing them for their appointment – a move that has seemed to shave two to three minutes off appointments so far in the first few weeks of the trial.

So far, patients have shared over 250 Ada assessments with the practice.

‘Having essentially a fully fleshed-out pre-assessment tool is really useful. It saves time in a consultation and there can also be an element of triage there,’ the GP added.

‘We've had a few patients use it with very simple hay fever symptoms. Ada has suggested this and then they’ve not come in. The patient gets value, but we also get value – patients have gone away and sought more appropriate care or not called us at all. We’re seeing that already.

‘The information gathering has saved some time. We've had multiple cases where Ada has asked more questions than we can in a 10-minute appointment. It can go through asking about a lot more history and gather more information than we could have.

‘Without a doubt it’s going to be the future. We are moving towards a digital-first approach – it assists both ends of the GP-patient relationship.

‘The difficult job of diagnosis and unmet patient health needs are a critically high part of our work and that will be assisted by this. It won’t ever replace the GP face-to-face consultation, but it will shift how a GP works.

‘I would hope a lot aren’t protective about that. With the increasing rate of patient consultations we need help. I would rather they have somewhat intelligent help than an unstructured Google approach – it’s definitely a way forward.’

Photo: iStock

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