More and more of us are turning to AI to seek medical advice, a new survey by Asda Online Doctor has revealed.
While some of us might try and use software like Chat GPT to create presentations, craft cover letters or even write university essays, worryingly, 1 in 10 people – an estimated 2.3 million UK adults – have admitted to taking medical advice from an AI platform.
According to the report, men (15%) trust the medical information supplied by artificial intelligence more than women (12%), but the report highlights an even more concerning issue: half of the respondents said that a doctor isn’t the first choice they turn to when they want to seek medical advice.
6.5% of people turn to a family member for guidance first, while 13.5% call the NHS’ 111 service. However, the report also found that 1 in 7 UK adults’ first choice for medical advice is Google, with 78.3% saying that the search engine is the most helpful online tool for useful medical information.
Why are we turning to alternative advice?
As we all know, long waiting times for doctors appointments have been plaguing a strained NHS for years now. This, paired with our increased reliance on the internet to provide us with the answers to questions regarding our lives, can make typing our medical concerns into a search bar – or an AI message – seem the most appealing (and most convenient) option.
I for one can admit to using the internet as a quick fix to worries and qualms I have concerning my health, especially when I feel panicked about what might be wrong. But while the internet – and now, AI – may feel like the easiest and fastest option, it’s also an unregulated universe that’s still being developed, and misinformation can be rife.
“Some websites appear to be trustworthy and authentic, however, in reality, they are run by people with no medical credentials,” Duality Health adds. “This is why it is always important that you double check the source of the information and their credibility.”
So, should we really trust AI when it comes to health information?
82% of people who have used AI for medical advice say they found the information they were supplied with helpful. As an online source, AI actually beats our Instagram (81.4%), Google (78.3%) and TikTok (76.6%) in terms of perceived helpfulness. But just because it feels like the information AI is producing is accurate, is it actually a source that we can trust?
Over on TikTok, Jeremy Faust MD gave an AI software a prompt to diagnose a hypothetical patient with a medical condition. Although he admits that AI did supply some accurate information, when questioned about its sources, Faust says that the AI’s response was concerning.
“I asked OpenAI to give me a reference, I looked up that and it’s made up,” he says. “That’s not a real paper.”
“It took a real journal, it took the last names of authors who are published in the said journal, and it sort of confabulated out of thin air a study that would apparently support this viewpoint that it must have picked up,” he explains.
As part of their research, experts at Asda Online Doctor used ChatGPT and Google Bard to search for advice regarding a range of medical symptoms. They found that two-thirds (65.7%) of the advice was helpful, while 11.4% was unhelpful.
But worryingly, the experts also discovered that 22.8% of the advice they received was potentially harmful – especially regarding conditions including ovarian cancer, ectopic pregnancy and HIV infection. Although the medical advice AI gives us might seem more helpful than not, when it comes to our health, it’s important not to take any risks – no matter how small they might seem.
Is there a better, safer option?
You guessed it – there is. Although the report found that a large proportion of us find it difficult to talk with a doctor about things like mental health (30.2%), body weight (23.9%) and STIs (26.1%), Dr Crystal Wyllie asserts that a medical professional will always be the best person to speak to.
“With more people using AI platforms on a daily basis, this might seem like a quick and easy way to get medical advice, especially for sensitive issues like sexual health,” she says. “However, the information platforms like ChatGPT provide isn’t always the most accurate, and can lead you down the wrong path.”
“Even if you’re short on time or feeling nervous to talk about tricky topics, nothing replaces talking to a trained medical professional.”