…but still want doctors to be involved
Women in the UK are turning to AI symptom checkers to manage their health — but they still want real-life doctors to be involved as well, a new survey has found.
A Healthily poll of 1,500 UK women aged 25-55 has uncovered a keen appetite for using online medical symptom checkers, with 41% of the women surveyed saying they would use them.
And 65% of those who already use symptom checkers said it was because they wanted to avoid waiting times with their GP.
AI needs a human face
But the role of doctors was still very much valued, with 8 in 10 women in the survey saying they agreed or strongly agreed that AI symptom checkers work best when supported by real-life doctors.
”With NHS waiting times increasing and only 10 minutes allocated to patients, we think we can help reduce the burden on the NHS,” says Professor Maureen Baker CBE, Healthily Chief Medical Officer and former chair of the Royal College of GPs (RCGP).
“Women want to use an AI symptom checker, but our survey shows they also want it backed by the expertise of real-life doctors for added reassurance, which is exactly what the Healthily Smart Symptom Checker offers – the best of both worlds.”
As well as creating medically verified content, Healthily has spent 7 years developing the Smart Symptom Checker (SSC), and has invested $40m in best-in-class AI using data inputted into the software by Healthily doctors.
Checking in for a range of conditions
Women say they are using symptom checkers to help them navigate all sorts of medical issues, from common cold symptoms to bowel health changes and how to check their breasts for breast cancer.
The top 7 health conditions women said they were using symptoms checkers for were:
- sleep (51%)
- skin problems (51%)
- weight management (47%)
- period problems (46%)
- headaches (46%)
- allergies (44%)
- respiratory symptoms (40%)
Women were more cautious about using a symptom checker to get information about other more ‘intimate’ conditions, such as changes to their vaginal (22%) and breast (21%) health.
It seems UK women are becoming ‘tech literate’, and as part of their digital repertoire they’re using technology to help them navigate the healthcare system more efficiently.
Half the women stated they use a symptom checker to help them fact-find and gather the information they need before they visit the doctor or pharmacist.
The tide is turning in favour of AI and self-care
“Health technology is progressing at a speed, and we’ve seen that over the past few months with all the hype around ChatGPT,” says Professor Baker.
“Only 5 years ago, AI still had a sci-fi-type image, and we would have probably found a lot more resistance to – and scepticism about – the tech we’re using now.”
The survey findings suggest that there’s a shift in trust and women’s attitudes towards using AI to manage their health. The evidence is that as health tech evolves, it’s helping drive women to take control of their health needs. This has been accelerated by big societal changes, and 37% of the women surveyed said they’re more likely to turn to their mobile device for quick health solutions since COVID-19 and the cost-of-living crisis.
“We use our mobile to plan every other aspect of our life,” says Professor Maureen Baker. “If you can find a trusted and reliable source of health information you can use via a symptom checker – why wouldn’t you give it a try?
“And if that source could help you work out what conditions might be most likely, and if you could save money by using self-care or a pharmacy visit to deal with your issue, that could help even more.”
Taking back control
As well as helping women navigate the NHS, 60% of women surveyed said that they would use a symptom checker to help them safely self-care from home. And 63% said they would be more confident making decisions about how to safely self-care at home if they had support from a symptom checker (for those already using a symptom checker, this rose to 70%). Another 48% said they would be motivated to self-care to manage their health and symptoms to feel more in control of their health.
As well as being able to trust AI, women want to feel confident that it is accurate – 39% said that accuracy would be a deciding factor to persuade them to use a symptom checker. Reassuringly, the recent updates to the SSC have taken another step forward to improve its accuracy.