UK patients sceptical about AI and robotics in healthcare


Trust in technology and lack of human touch are main patient concerns

UK patients are the most sceptical in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) when it comes to having robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) involved in their healthcare. New research from PwC shows that just 39% of UK patients and 41% of German patients say they are willing to engage with AI or robotics for healthcare, in sharp contrast with other countries in the EMEA region, such as Nigeria, where 94% of patients are willing.

Even though UK patients are more sceptical, the fact that nearly four in 10 would be willing to engage with technology in their healthcare experience signals a huge opportunity to transform healthcare delivery for the benefit of patients.

In the UK, men are significantly more willing than women – 47% compared to 32% – to engage with AI and robots for their healthcare. And perhaps unsurprisingly, the older generation are much more sceptical than the young – 33% compared to 55%.

PwC’s report is based on a survey of over 11,000 people from 12 countries across EMEA. More than half of the respondents (55%) in EMEA countries say they would be willing to use advanced computer technology or robots with AI that can answer health questions, perform tests, make a diagnosis and recommend treatment. This has the potential to transform healthcare delivery to make it better, faster and more accessible for all, PwC claimed.

This report follows PwC’s recent Economic Outlook, published in March 2017, which predicted that 17% of existing UK healthcare jobs are susceptible to automation from robotics and AI by the 2030s.

Brian Pomering, PwC healthcare partner, commented: ““While taken at face value it appears UK patients are most sceptical about the use of AI and robotics in healthcare, closer examination reveals a significant potential market.

“The younger the demographic group, the more likely they are to see new health technologies in a positive light. Well over half of 18 to 24 year olds would be willing to engage with AI and robotics to take care of some of their health. If only a proportion start to use more services delivered through technology, which could begin to make big savings. This could, in turn, make a serious contribution to addressing the huge financial challenges facing the health system in the UK.”

For all questions throughout the survey, a pattern emerged between developed and emerging economies. People in countries with well established, and therefore less flexible, healthcare systems (UK and Western and Northern Europe,) were willing to engage with a non-human healthcare provider, but less so than those in emerging markets where healthcare is still being shaped and formed.

The survey found that even in the operating theatre, respondents would be willing for a robot to perform a minor surgical procedure instead of a doctor. Respondents in Nigeria, Turkey and South Africa are the most willing to undergo minor surgery performed by robots (73%, 66% and 62% respectively), with the UK the least willing (36%).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the situation changes dramatically when it comes to major surgery, such as replacement of a knee or hip joint, removal of a tumour, or heart surgery. Even so, a significant percentage of respondents are willing to undergo major surgery performed by a robot, ranging from 69% in Nigeria to 40% in the Netherlands and 27% in the UK.

The survey also explores the key drivers for a person’s willingness or unwillingness to use an AI-enabled or robotic health procedure or service. Easier and quicker access to healthcare services (36%) and speed and accuracy of diagnoses (33%) are the primary motivators for willingness, with lack of trust in robots being able to make decisions (47%) and lack of the human touch (41%) as the primary reasons for their reluctance. Although percentages vary across countries, these top two advantages and disadvantages are cited in this order across all countries with the exception of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, where respondents feel the lack of ‘human touch’ was the biggest disadvantage.


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