AI Nurses: Panacea or Pandora’s Box for Healthcare?

Updated on May 5, 2024
artificial intelligence in healthcare

The healthcare sector is rapidly adopting AI to help improve disease detection and patient care along with delivering efficiency gains. The technology’s potential is fueling an array of investments and innovations in everything from cancer diagnosis to AI nurses. With respect to AI nurses, many believe this application is the only way to ease the industry’s staffing shortages. 

With the nursing labor gap expected to exceed 10 million by 2030, coupled with the imperative to improve care, AI nurses have the potential to help mitigate these issues. And with careful deployment, they support the oath of “first, do no harm.” These virtual assistants have an important role to play in providing around-the-clock access to healthcare and deliver a range of benefits, including:

Augment Human Care 

It’s essential to recognize that AI nurses will not replace humans. Instead, they will assist and augment the efforts of care teams. Nurses will remain pivotal in applying their experience to make clinical decisions and providing compassionate care. AI nurses will relieve some of the stress on nurses by automating time-consuming administrative and often repetitive tasks such as data entry, health risk assessments, pre-op outreach, discharge follow-ups, elderly care, and managing chronic conditions. 

Before being deployed, AI nurses must be trained to understand when and how to escalate issues to their physical counterparts and their development must be carefully monitored by a team of highly capable human supervisors. Additionally, the existing care teams need to learn how to collaborate with digital nurses and harness their data-driven insights to help validate clinical decisions. As AI assistants become more commonplace, they will allow human nurses to spend more time focused on patient care. This should improve job satisfaction, slowing the flow of skilled professionals leaving the industry. 

Advance Personalized Healthcare

AI and wearable technologies will help pave the way towards more personalized and proactive care. The intelligence rapidly analyzes vast amounts of patient data and considers factors like genomic, environment, and personalized health information to tailor treatments for each patient. Once the care team signs off on the treatment plan, the AI nurse can work with each individual to ensure they understand the schedule. In addition, they will check in regularly to see how things are progressing and that there are no adverse side effects or concerns with human backup always available.

This technology will help manage chronic conditions as the always-on monitoring will enable the delivery of more proactive and individualized care. With the never ending rise in healthcare costs, it’s not economically viable to think that more skilled professionals, even if available, will be the answer.

Improve Outcomes

Patient engagement and education are vital to driving better health outcomes. AI nurses can continuously monitor patient data, which can lead to earlier diagnosis, intervention, and treatment detection. Additionally, the intelligence can reduce medical errors and enhance patient safety.

As AI nurses don’t require downtime and can stay available at all hours, this means that if patients wake up at night with unusual symptoms, they can engage with the virtual nurse. The technology will then determine, based on data, if the situation merits being escalated to a human. Conversely, if the AI nurse detects any sign of concern through its monitoring, it can engage with the patient and escalate to a care professional.

Complementary Workforce 

Technology is transforming healthcare, and AI nurses have an essential role in the years ahead. However, they must be carefully trained and evaluated before interacting with people, patients, and clinicians. Over time, as they prove themselves safe and effective, they will take on more and more tasks in support of human nurses and doctors, who, in turn, will need to be trained to utilize the data insights from the technology to improve patient care.  

The intelligence will enhance human nurses but will never replace the empathetic holistic approach that defines the profession. AI lacks the human qualities essential to nursing, including the vast experience that only comes from working with understanding the nuances of human emotions and personalities on a daily basis. However, AI nurses are a potent force that will help alleviate some of the pressures the healthcare industry is struggling with. As they become more pervasive, disease detection and diagnosis will be enhanced, patient outcomes improved, and resources optimized. 

Kanwar Kelley
Kanwar Kelly, MD, JD
Cofounder at Side Health

Kanwar Kelly, MD, JD is cofounder of Side Health.