Revolutionising healthcare: The impact of Artificial Intelligence in nursing and midwifery

Artificial intelligence

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has emerged as a revolutionary force in diverse industries, and nursing and midwifery are no exceptions.

The integration of AI technologies has the potential to reshape healthcare delivery, improve patient outcomes, and enhance the efficiency of healthcare systems. But with AI’s potential, there are also certain challenges and concerns that we need to consider.

What exactly is AI? It is the ability of computers to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as learning, reasoning, and decision making.

For example, in healthcare, AI can be used to analyse medical imaging scans and X-rays to eliminate the risk of human error.

The media often refers to AI as a website called ChatGPT. This is a natural language processing tool driven by AI technology that can write an essay, compose a song, create a poem or even ‘paint’ in a particular style.

It could fool you into believing a human produced the results. But AI is not sentient – it is a combination of software and hardware that appears to have human-like intelligence and reasoning.

If carefully implemented, AI presents certain unique benefits for our professions, including:

  • Relieving the burden of ever-increasing administration needs via automating routine tasks.
  • Helping nurses make more accurate and timely diagnoses, potentially leading to better treatment outcomes.
  • Analysing large datasets to identify trends and patterns not apparent to clinicians, leading to earlier detection of diseases and improved patient care.
  • Streamlining administrative processes and reducing errors in diagnosis and treatment for cost savings in healthcare delivery, which can then be redirected towards better healthcare outcomes.

While integrating AI into nursing holds immense promise, it also presents certain challenges and ethical considerations. Privacy and security of patient data are paramount concerns, as AI relies on vast amounts of sensitive information. There are many examples of AI technologies that, due to poor design, did not perform as expected or promised.

For example, in 2021, a paper published in Nature Machine Intelligence explored the use of AI in diagnosing via medical imaging the COVID-19 virus. The dataset used to train the AI included patients imaged when lying down (eg. CXR CT scans). Those lying down were much more likely to be seriously ill, so the algorithm learned to identify COVID risk based on the person’s position in the scan. Consequently, the AI model was flawed.

AI implementation requires caution and should not replace critical thinking – the core of nursing and midwifery. We must question, analyse, evaluate and judge what we hear or see. Critical thinking in healthcare is most crucial when new information is obtained and a quick decision is needed. AI is only as good as its programming and data that it has access to. Relying on AI and not thinking critically about every patient care decision could be problematic.

AI lacks empathy. This is a human quality. As well as critical thinking, empathy can direct how we provide care. Computers cannot provide nursing and midwifery values such as compassionate and patient-centred care provision and respect for diverse perspectives.

The implementation of AI in healthcare must involve nurses and midwives in its development. We are the largest and most trusted group of healthcare professionals and have direct and frequent contact with patients, parents and families. We have rich, nuanced and diverse knowledge and experience in clinical practice and education. Therefore, nurses and midwives should be involved in conceptualising, designing, testing, and evaluating AI technologies to ensure that they are relevant, useful, and acceptable for our practice and patient care. If AI is introduced with the involvement of our profession, then there is more likely to be a positive attitude towards it.

Importantly, nurses and midwives should also collaborate with other stakeholders, such as patients, researchers, developers, and policymakers, to ensure that AI technologies are ethical, legal, and safe.

Nurses, midwives, and healthcare institutions must approach AI integration thoughtfully, ensuring that ethical and regulatory concerns are addressed. Training and education will be essential to prepare nurses for the AI-augmented healthcare landscape. By embracing AI while preserving the core values of nursing and midwifery, our professions can harness the power of technology to provide even better patient care, ultimately leading to a healthier and more efficient healthcare system.

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