The Role of ChatGPT in Assisting Doctors: Opportunities and Limitations

KEY TAKEAWAYS

The use of ChatGPT in healthcare presents both opportunities and challenges. While it shows potential in assisting doctors with administrative tasks, enhancing empathy, simplifying medical jargon, improving telemedicine, and aiding research, caution is essential. Doubts about reliability, biases, and limitations must be addressed before widespread implementation. Trust and credibility from the medical community are crucial for ChatGPT to earn its place in patient treatment, ensuring the utmost safety and efficacy.

The current treatment approach is standardized worldwide, with some variations. Let’s take the example of a patient with severe respiratory distress who is admitted to a hospital.

The initial priority is to alleviate distress or discomfort. Doctors will conduct multiple tests to gather more information about the patient’s condition. These tests provide data that helps doctors come closer to a conclusive diagnosis. In some cases, a board of doctors from different specialties with diverse perspectives may be assembled to discuss the patient’s case.

Based on the condition and the results of the investigations, the patient will be prescribed appropriate medications. The outcome of the treatment depends on various factors, including the patient’s age, the severity of the condition, the chosen treatment method, and the patient’s immune system.

Here are certain observations on the current treatment approach:

  • Treatment of severe diseases can be time-consuming, costly, painful, and stressful for patients and their families;
  • Data on the patient is crucial in such cases as it provides vital information about their medical history, current condition, and response to treatments;
  • Data plays a significant role in determining the treatment approach;
  • One advantage doctors have is the ability to compare patient data, especially for those with similar conditions and other relevant factors.

Doctors ideally focus on treating patients but often spend a significant amount of time on administrative tasks such as writing grant appeals, addressing cases to health insurers, and documenting patient histories. This administrative burden limits the time available for direct patient care.

ChatGPT Use Cases

The current treatment approach, although effective, can benefit from further improvement, and ChatGPT can potentially play a valuable role in assisting doctors.

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This section discusses the use cases of ChatGPT as an aide to doctors.

Write Mundane Stuff

Doctors’ time is often consumed by tasks such as writing appeals for grants, addressing cases to health insurers, and documenting patient histories, which can be mundane and time-consuming.

ChatGPT could potentially handle these assignments on behalf of doctors, freeing them up to focus on more relevant and productive responsibilities.

Show More Compassion and Empathy

Patients, together with their loved ones, have high expectations of doctors, not only in terms of effective treatment but also in terms of compassion and empathy. Without these qualities, the patient experience can be greatly compromised. Interestingly, Peter Lee, the corporate vice president for research and incubations at Microsoft, has found that doctors are utilizing ChatGPT to improve their ability to express empathy and compassion.

Medical professionals have started using ChatGPT to request scripts that assist them in communicating with patients, their families, and friends in a more compassionate manner. For instance, ChatGPT can provide scripts that guide doctors in delivering difficult news with sensitivity and care.

Decoding Medical Jargon

Dr. Michael Pignone, the chairman of the Department of Internal Medicine at the University of Texas at Austin, provided an insightful example of how ChatGPT can demystify medical terminology for non-experts. Pignone illustrated this by explaining a project focused on improving treatments for alcohol use disorder. The initial question, “How do we engage patients who have not responded to behavioral interventions?” may be challenging for a layperson to comprehend.

However, with the assistance of ChatGPT, the translation could be simplified to: “How can doctors better help patients who are consuming excessive amounts of alcohol but haven’t been able to quit even after talking to a therapist?”

Although it required multiple interactions and adjustments to refine ChatGPT’s responses, the final outcome was satisfactory.

Improve Telemedicine

Telemedicine has experienced significant growth in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, and ChatGPT can play a valuable role in various aspects of this field:

Enhanced patient interaction ChatGPT can significantly improve the experience of interacting with both new and existing patients.

By employing natural language processing (NLP), it can provide a more human-like and personalized interaction compared to rigid, robotic scripts, leading to a better patient experience and increased satisfaction.

Utilizing the patient’s medical history Leveraging its ability to understand and utilize context and background information, ChatGPT can engage in primary interactions with existing patients based on their medical history, previous treatments, prescribed medications, and doctor’s recommendations.

This enables a more informed and efficient conversation, allowing doctors to address patient concerns more effectively.

Facilitating new appointments In the case of new appointments, ChatGPT can assist by suggesting suitable doctors based on the patient’s specific medical conditions, history, and complaints.

By analyzing relevant data and matching it with the expertise and specialization of healthcare professionals, ChatGPT can provide valuable recommendations, streamlining the process of finding the right doctor for the patient’s needs.

Help in Research

Heather Mattie, a public health lecturer at Harvard University, has been conducting research on modeling social connections and HIV. In her work, she used ChatGPT, and the findings were beyond expectations. Mattie expressed her astonishment at how the tool was able to reconcile opposing theories, surpassing her expectations. She also highlighted the potential of ChatGPT in summarizing text for research purposes.

Moreover, doctors and researchers can already employ ChatGPT to study cases and improve their diagnostic abilities, as well as develop more effective treatment strategies. They can gather various data and analytics, such as evaluating the effectiveness of different treatment methodologies for specific medical conditions.

Use Limitations

Since it pertains to the treatment of medical conditions, it is crucial to ensure that ChatGPT never assumes a leading role in determining a patient’s treatment. Doctors and researchers should approach the tool’s findings with caution.

Heather Mattie, a public health lecturer at Harvard University, emphasizes the need for researchers studying cardiological and intensive care injuries to exercise considerable discretion. This caution is necessary because ChatGPT has the potential to exhibit racial bias or discrimination when providing information.

Upon observing the outputs of ChatGPT regarding the research on modeling social connections and HIV, Mattie questioned the reliability of the information generated. Separating factual information from the outputs would pose a significant challenge.

The medical community holds varying opinions regarding the usefulness of ChatGPT. While some doctors believe it can enhance their compassion, empathy, and access to reliable information, others remain skeptical. Dr. Dev Dash, a member of the data science team at Stanford Health Care, expressed his reservations, saying:

I know physicians are using this. I’ve heard of residents using it to guide clinical decision-making. I don’t think it’s appropriate.

He further explained that although ChatGPT may provide some accurate answers, its responses have generally been inconsistent or incorrect.

Relying on such responses for medical treatment or conclusions can potentially lead to disastrous consequences.

The Bottom Line

While ChatGPT currently demonstrates valuable applications and holds potential for future use cases, its current role is limited to assisting doctors in various capacities. Despite the impressive capabilities of its large language model (LLM) and machine learning (ML), they are insufficient to govern or dictate treatment decisions.

There are too many doubts cast over its responses, data sources, and opinions. Medical treatment is an extremely sensitive field, and missteps can’t be undone in most cases. After weighing the pros and cons, the risks of allowing it into treating patients far outweigh the rewards. ChatGPT must evolve until it gains enough trust and credibility from the medical fraternity universally.

Concerns persist regarding the reliability of its responses, data sources, and opinions. The field of medical treatment requires utmost caution due to its sensitivity, and irreversible consequences may arise from any errors.

For widespread acceptance, ChatGPT must undergo further development to earn trust and establish credibility within the medical community.

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Kaushik Pal
Technology writer

Kaushik is a technical architect and software consultant with over 23 years of experience in software analysis, development, architecture, design, testing and training. He has an interest in new technologies and areas of innovation. He focuses on web architecture, web technologies, Java/J2EE, open source software, WebRTC, big data and semantic technologies. He has demonstrated expertise in requirements analysis, architectural design and implementation, technical use cases and software development. His experience has covered various industries such as insurance, banking, airlines, shipping, document management and product development, etc. He has worked on a wide range of technologies ranging from large scale (IBM…