UC San Diego Health has officially launched a pilot program using ChatGPT to generate messages for patients in a move meant to streamline communication with doctors.
“We’ve become overwhelmed with messages from patients,” said UC San Diego Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Chris Longhurst, M.D., M.S. “This has created an epidemic of ‘pajama time’ for our doctors where they’re answering messages after hours and it’s contributing to this idea of ‘burn out’ in healthcare, particularly for primary care physicians.”
There’s no end in sight. The pandemic kicked telemedicine into high gear and patients aren’t turning back. To help alleviate some of the burden on healthcare providers, chatbots will draft messages that providers can then edit for content and tone before they’re sent to patients.
“We don’t want any hallucinations going to our patients, so the editing is critical,” he added. “We wanted to make sure that we rolled it out carefully and thoughtfully. It’s a new approach, and we want to make sure that there are no unintended adverse consequences.”
UC San Diego Health is one of a select few hospital systems across the nation that are testing the use of operationalized GPT inside of their electronic health record systems. Others include UW Health of Madison, Wisconsin and Stanford Health Care.
UC San Diego Health’s electronic medical records system, Epic, runs on Microsoft software which has the exclusive right to commercialize OpenAI – the developers of ChatGPT.
Details of the pilot have been cleared by the hospital’s AI committee, which includes an ethicist. Patients who receive AI-generated messages are notified. “One of the things that we’re doing is integrating into the messages a disclaimer that says part of the message was generated by AI in a secure environment and reviewed and edited by your care team,” said Dr. Longhurst.
The pilot started with a total of 10 physicians. Most of them focus on primary care but a few specialists are included. Every couple of months, data gathered will be analyzed to assess the impact and performance, like whether the AI is actually saving providers’ time and lowering their rates of stress and burnout.
The pilot plans to continue for as long as the testing is necessary, with the eventual goal of expanding it beyond the experimental phase.
The benefits for providers are clear but UC San Diego Health believes that patients will also embrace the changes. A surprising new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that a panel of licensed healthcare professionals preferred ChatGPT’s responses 79% of the time and rated ChatGPT’s responses as higher quality and more empathetic.
Dr. Longhurst remains cautiously optimistic. While generative AI is no replacement for human care, he noted that ChatGPT’s responses may contain helpful patient information that even a physician may not know.
If it pans out, UC San Diego Health plans to experiment with using generative AI to summarize a patient’s medical history which is stored in their electronic health records. “One of the next areas that we’re excited to explore is summarizing a patient’s care journey because if you have 20 years of healthcare at UC San Diego – but you show up in our emergency department — you’re a new patient to that emergency department physician. Going through the electronic equivalent of 20 years of care and figuring out what’s wrong isn’t easy,” he explained.
Hitting future targeted specific use cases will improve efficiency, but there’s a bigger, potentially transformative goal. Dr. Longhurst added, “The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is diagnostic decision support.”
UC San Diego Health
CEO: Patty Maysent
HEADQUARTERS: San Diego
NOTABLE: UC San Diego Health was ranked the #1 hospital system in San Diego for 2022-23 by U.S. News & World Report.