ChatGPT could help reduce A&E wait times – study

Researchers in the Netherlands found the language model showed ‘potential’ but concerns remain over privacy when using medical data

Storm Newton
Wednesday 13 September 2023 06:00 BST
ChatGPT (John Walton/PA)
ChatGPT (John Walton/PA)

ChatGPT could be used to diagnose patients in a bid to reduce waiting times in emergency departments, researchers have suggested.

It comes after a study found the language model, powered by artificial intelligence (AI), “performed well” in generating a list of diagnoses for patients and suggesting the most likely option.

Researchers in the Netherlands entered the records of 30 patients who visited an emergency department in 2022, as well as anonymous doctors’ notes, into ChatGPT versions 3.5 and 4.0.

The AI analysis was compared to two clinicians who made a diagnosis based on the same information, both with and without laboratory data.

The benefit of using artificial intelligence could be in supporting doctors with less experience, or it could help in spotting rare diseases

Dr Hidde ten Berg

When lab data was included, doctors had the correct answer in their top five differential diagnoses in 87% of cases, compared with 97% for ChatGPT 3.5 and 87% for ChatGPT 4.0.

There was a 60% overlap between the differential diagnoses by clinicians and ChatGPT.

The team said that while ChatGPT was “able to suggest medical diagnoses much like a human doctor would”, more work is needed before it is applied in the real world.

The study was led by Dr Hidde ten Berg and Dr Steef Kurstjens from Jeroen Bosch Hospital s-Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands.

Dr ten Berg said ChatGPT made a list of likely diagnoses and suggested the most likely option, adding: “We also found a lot of overlap with the doctors’ lists of likely diagnoses. Simply put, this indicates that ChatGPT was able to suggest medical diagnoses much like a human doctor would.

“For example, we included a case of a patient presenting with joint pain that was alleviated with painkillers, but redness, joint pain and swelling always recurred. In the previous days, the patient had a fever and sore throat. A few times there was a discolouration of the fingertips.

We are a long way from using ChatGPT in the clinic, but it’s vital that we explore new technology and consider how it could be used to help doctors and their patients

Professor Youri Yordanov

“Based on the physical exam and additional tests, the doctors thought the most likely diagnosis was probably rheumatic fever, but ChatGPT was correct with its most likely diagnosis of vasculitis.”

Dr ten Berg stressed ChatGPT “is not a medical device” and there are “concerns over privacy” when using the programme with medical data.

“However, there is potential here for saving time and reducing waiting times in the emergency department,” he added.

“The benefit of using artificial intelligence could be in supporting doctors with less experience, or it could help in spotting rare diseases.”

The findings of the study – published in the medical journal Annals of Emergency Medicine – will be presented at the European Emergency Medicine Congress (EUSEM) 2023 in Barcelona.

Professor Youri Yordanov, of St Antoine Hospital emergency department in Paris, is chairman of the EUSEM 2023 abstract committee.

He added: “We are a long way from using ChatGPT in the clinic, but it’s vital that we explore new technology and consider how it could be used to help doctors and their patients.

People who need to go to the emergency department want to be seen as quickly as possible and to have their problem correctly diagnosed and treated. I look forward to more research in this area and hope that it might ultimately support the work of busy health professionals.”

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