ChatGPT more empathetic to medical patients than doctors are – study

Science and Health

While artificial intelligence won’t entirely replace physicians anytime soon, new research finds that it may already be outperforming doctors when it comes to answering patient questions with compassion. 

The study, published Friday in the peer-reviewed journal JAMA Internal Medicine, provides an early look into the role that AI could assist within medicine. 

Study author John Ayers from Qualcomm Institute at the University of California, San Diego, said there are massive opportunities to improve healthcare by using AI, and stressed his belief that “AI-augmented care is the future of medicine.”.

Ayers and his team compared written responses to real-world health questions from doctors with those from ChatGPT. In order the keep the responses both anonymous and realistic, the researchers used Reddit’s AskDocs page where thousands of people have posted their medical inquiries. 

A keyboard is seen reflected on a computer screen displaying the website of ChatGPT, an AI chatbot from OpenAI, in this illustration picture taken Feb. 8, 2023. (credit: REUTERS/FLORENCE LO/ILLUSTRATION/FILE PHOTO)

The team randomly sampled 195 exchanges from AskDocs where a verified physician answered a public question, before providing the original question to ChatGPT and asking it to author a response.

A panel of three licensed healthcare professionals then evaluated each question and the ensuing responses and were not told whether the response originated from a physician or ChatGPT. They measured responses based on information quality and empathy, noting which one they preferred.

The panel favored ChatGPT’s responses 79% of the time, indicating that they considered ChatGPT’s responses to be higher quality and more empathetic. 

What is ChatGPT and what would be its role in medicine?

Generative artificial intelligence has become a buzzword this year, capturing the public’s fancy and sparking a rush among Microsoft and Alphabet to launch products with the technology they believe will change the nature of work.

Like other forms of artificial intelligence, generative AI learns how to take actions from past data. It creates brand new content – a text, an image, even computer code – based on that training, instead of simply categorizing or identifying data like other AI.

The most famous generative AI application is ChatGPT, a chatbot that Microsoft-backed OpenAI released late last year. The AI powering it is known as a large language model because it takes in a text prompt and from that writes a human-like response.

The researchers expressed hope that rather than replace medical professionals, AI and doctors will work together. 

“While our study pitted ChatGPT against physicians, the ultimate solution isn’t throwing your doctor out altogether,” said Adam Poliak an assistant professor of Computer Science at Bryn Mawr College and study co-author. “Instead, a physician harnessing ChatGPT is the answer for better and empathetic care.”

Christopher Longhurst, a doctor at UC San Diego Health who took part in the study, praised it for being “among the first to show how AI assistants can potentially solve real-world healthcare delivery problems.

“These results suggest that tools like ChatGPT can efficiently draft high-quality, personalized medical advice for review by clinicians, and we are beginning that process at UCSD Health.”

Reuters contributed to this report.