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Surveying public perceptions of AI

As part of our research for developing a National Strategy for Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Health and Social Care, we ran a nationally representative survey of 1,031 people across England. The survey explored people’s views and levels of confidence about the use of AI in health and social care.

We used the results of this survey, alongside further engagement with those who work with AI or are affected by a national strategy, to inform the strategy’s progress.

Survey results

People surveyed had a relatively low understanding of AI and its applications in health and social care, with about 48% of respondents having heard nothing at all or only very little about AI. During the focus groups discussion it became clear that people had been using AI in their daily lives through their smartphones or when using internet search engines for example, but were unaware that these were powered by AI.

The survey was nationally representative in terms of gender, ethnicity, age, geographical spread and socio-economic status.

View a breakdown of the status of our respondents

Gender

51% of the respondents identified as female
49% of respondents identified as male

Geography

5% of respondents came from the North East
10% of respondents came from Yorkshire and The Humber
9% of respondents came from the East Midlands
11% of respondents came from the East of England
16% of respondents came from London
16% of respondents came from the South East
10% of respondents came from the South West
11% of respondents came from the West Midlands
13% of respondents came from the North West

Ethnicity

85% of respondents were white
15% of respondents were from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic groups

Age

2% of respondents were aged from 16-17
22% of respondents were aged from 18-24
17% of respondents were aged from 24-34
16% of respondents were aged from from 35-44
17% of respondents were aged from 45-54
15% of respondents were aged from 55-64
12% of respondents were aged from 65-74
11% of respondents were aged 75 and above

How comfortable are people with the use of AI in health and care?

The survey gave examples of 3 areas of health and care that AI could support and asked people to say whether they had trust in AI:

  • to support decision-making and diagnoses
  • to improve personal lifestyle choices
  • to improve the efficiency of services

The survey results indicate that people feel more trusting about AI being able to improve their personal health through the use of apps (54%) or to help the health and social care system become more efficient (54%) rather than helping doctors and nurses make better decisions (41%).

Chart showing percentages
Are people comfortable with the use of AI to help decision-making, support their own lifestyle choices or to make processes more efficient?

Further results showed that greater awareness or understanding of AI leads to greater belief in the benefits it can bring to AI in health and social care.

We asked a series of questions depicting specific uses of AI and asked respondents how comfortable they were with each scenario. Our questions delved deeper into the three areas of efficiency, decision-making and lifestyle choice. For example:

  • using smart forms to reduce the use of paper and improve efficiency
  • using AI tools to plan surgeries and predict problems
  • wearing smart watches to monitor health and identify issues

Despite declaring a lack of knowledge about artificial intelligence, when presented with examples of the use of AI in health and care, 56% of people surveyed felt either "very comfortable" or “relatively comfortable” across the 14 scenarios.

View survey responses to the 14 AI examples

Using AI to improve efficiency

Respondents were asked how comfortable they feel with using AI for efficiency by:

Using AI on hospital booking systems so that staff can have a real-time view of waiting times and bed capacity.

  • 67% of respondents felt comfortable
  • 19% neither comfortable nor uncomfortable
  • 11% felt uncomfortable

Nursing care home staff using AI to reduce medicine wastage.

  • 57% of respondents felt comfortable
  • 26% neither comfortable nor uncomfortable
  • 13% felt uncomfortable

Using electronic smart forms platforms to create paperless working across health and social care.

  • 56% of respondents felt comfortable
  • 25% neither comfortable nor uncomfortable
  • 16% felt uncomfortable.

Nurses and carers using AI to help them plan the best route when delivering care in people's homes.

  • 60% of respondents felt comfortable
  • 24% neither comfortable nor uncomfortable
  • 13% felt uncomfortable.

AI and decision-support

Respondents were asked how comfortable they feel with using AI to help clinicians and other health and care professionals make decisions by:

Using AI to position a patient for a scan, so the image is taken correctly.

  • 64% of respondents felt comfortable,
  • 21% neither comfortable nor uncomfortable,
  • 11% felt uncomfortable.

Councils using AI to identify people who are becoming unwell, and recommend ways to keep them healthier for longer.

  • 52% of respondents felt comfortable,
  • 28% neither comfortable nor uncomfortable,
  • 16% felt uncomfortable.

Surgeons using AI to plan operations and identify any potential difficulties.

  • 55% of respondents felt comfortable,
  • 23% neither comfortable nor uncomfortable,
  • 19% felt uncomfortable.

Councils using AI to identify common symptoms in an area, and prevent any outbreaks.

  • 59% of respondents felt comfortable,
  • 24% neither comfortable nor uncomfortable,
  • 15% felt uncomfortable.

AI and consumer facing products

Respondents were asked how comfortable they feel with using AI to improve their health and/or lifestyle choices via consumer products, for example:

Wearable monitors that continuously assess the user's health to identify any new conditions.

  • 57% of respondents felt comfortable,
  • 25% neither comfortable nor uncomfortable,
  • 15% felt uncomfortable.

A phone app which allows users to screen for any skin problems, and provides them with personalised advice on what to do next.

  • 51% of respondents felt comfortable,
  • 28% neither comfortable nor uncomfortable,
  • 18% felt uncomfortable.

A phone camera that can measure the user's blood pressure, heart rate, breathing, and oxygen levels.

  • 59% of respondents felt comfortable,
  • 22% neither comfortable nor uncomfortable,
  • 16% felt uncomfortable.

An app that can improve the user's brain health, prevent brain decline, or treat mental illness with personalised brain training.

  • 52% of respondents felt comfortable,
  • 27% neither comfortable nor uncomfortable,
  • 17% felt uncomfortable.

A camera app that can assess the pain of people who can't communicate by analysing their facial expressions, and recommend to carers the best way to manage the person's pain.

  • 54% of respondents felt comfortable,
  • 24% neither comfortable nor uncomfortable,
  • 18% felt uncomfortable.

A listening device placed in care homes to monitor patients during the night and alert their carers if they need help.

  • 61% of respondents felt comfortable,
  • 21% neither comfortable nor uncomfortable,
  • 15% felt uncomfortable.

We explored the causes of any hesitancy or concern about the application of AI in health and social care. People’s responses indicated a preference to trust in the knowledge and skills of health and care professionals over that of AI technologies. This is reflected in the fact that people had a general disbelief in the degree of sophistication of AI and thought that it was not yet advanced enough for them to be confident in its results.

The trustworthiness of AI

Three main themes stood out in our survey results and focus groups relating to trust. In order to have trust in AI, people wanted to have:

A human in the loop

Both the survey and workshops highlighted that people ultimately want health and care professionals to make decisions about their care. AI should only be used as a decision support tool.

Survey respondents also highlighted that they would like the opportunity to discuss the results of an AI supported diagnostic test with a health and care professional. Of those respondents who do not feel confident in the accuracy of AI, 57% would be reassured by a call with a doctor to discuss the results.

Open and honest information

People expressed concerns about how organisations used personal information about them and how they complied with the law. Both the survey and workshops highlighted the need to inform and reassure the public about the robustness of the regulatory process around AI and the work that companies must do to prove their product works robustly in a way that is safe and ethical in order to operate within health and care.

People want to be informed in an easily accessible manner how a product complies with data protection and medical device regulation. Making this type of information accessible to the public would increase their trust in AI.

Proof of the impact

The public wants to understand the uses and benefits of AI in health and social care and be shown what impact AI will have in comparison to now. Having a clear understanding of the benefits and risks of various applications of AI in health and care would greatly increase their confidence in the use of AI.

Graphic saying Human in the loop, Open and honest and Proof of impact
The 3 main concerns for trustworthiness of AI

Increasing trust

In the survey and workshops, we explored what could be done to increase people’s level of confidence and comfort with the applications of AI in health and care. The survey provided suggestions of ways to improve comfort in the safe adoption of AI in health and social care

We asked: which of the following may help to improve your comfort in health and social care organisations safely adopting? The following percentage of respondents chose these options:

  • Greater transparency about how AI works: 40%
  • Easy access to speak to a doctor or nurse if I don't trust the results: 50%
  • Clear and accessible information about the laws surrounding AI in health and social care: 42%
  • Clear and accessible information on how data about me is uses: 43%
  • Clear and accessible information about my rights (e.g. to opt out of data being shared): 38%
  • Clear and accessible information about which private companies are working with the NHS and social care to develop AI technologies: 39%