Revolutionizing Healthcare: AI’s Impact on Patient Communication at Ochsner Health

Health Systems Focus 2021

In the near future, approximately 100 physicians at Ochsner Health will rely on artificial intelligence to assist with a task that has become increasingly time-consuming: addressing a deluge of patient inquiries.

The volume of patient inquiries through Ochsner’s portal skyrocketed in tandem with the surge in virtual appointments during the pandemic, as explained by Dr. Louis Jeansonne, the Chief Medical Information Officer.

Ochsner, Louisiana’s preeminent healthcare provider, has experienced a staggering 75% surge in patient messages since 2019. Nevertheless, patients have embraced the convenience of messaging their physicians, and this demand has remained strong even as the pandemic receded. In 2022 alone, over four million requests for medical advice were transmitted to physicians through the hospital’s application.

Dr. Jeansonne remarked, “We continue to observe this persistent surge in message traffic, which is advantageous due to its convenience. However, it means that our doctors, nurses, and medical assistants in the clinics must allocate their time between responding to messages and conducting in-person patient consultations.”

Much like ChatGPT, the AI program can compose responses to routine questions that patients might have about the medical conditions listed in their charts, obtaining refills, or information regarding medications. The program can delve into the patient’s records to tailor the responses accordingly.

It is important to note that all messages drafted by the pilot AI program will undergo review by healthcare providers, who can make their own modifications. Patients receiving messages generated by AI will encounter a disclaimer at the message’s conclusion. Dr. Jeansonne underscored that the AI would not operate independently or address intricate inquiries.

Dr. Jeansonne clarified, “It is not making diagnoses or prescribing treatments. Its primary function is to save time.”

A few Ochsner physicians have already been piloting the program, and it is set to launch with the first cohort of 100 doctors this month, as confirmed by Ochsner officials.

Ochsner will join institutions such as UC San Diego Health, UW Health in Madison, Wisconsin, and Stanford Health Care in testing this artificial intelligence initiative, a partnership between Microsoft’s Azure OpenAI Service and Epic, the electronic medical records system.

Dr. James Chow, an associate professor of radiation oncology at the University of Toronto, who recently published a paper in the Journal of Medical Internet Research Cancer about chatbots in cancer care, expressed that AI adapted to sound more human-like can be beneficial for straightforward requests. Nevertheless, it cannot replace human professionals. Dr. Chow suggests that messages generated by AI should be reviewed by human practitioners, particularly when dealing with senior patients.

Dr. Chow stated, “Human medical staff remains the ideal choice. However, we need chatbots due to the sheer volume of patients and the limited number of human physicians.”

Research from the Journal of the American Medical Association indicates that patients may favor AI-crafted responses over those from doctors. A small-scale study conducted in April revealed that responses from chatbots received higher ratings for both quality and empathy, and were preferred in nearly 79% of cases.

As artificial intelligence continues to gain prominence, Ochsner is exploring additional applications. Upcoming is a program designed to identify signs of stroke in MRIs and CT scans, elevating potential stroke cases to the top of the reviewing physicians’ priority list. This program is slated to launch later this month, as announced by Dr. Jeansonne.