AI, AI everywhere! I’m a medical writer, what should I think?

The pace of technological development in all areas of life can be discombobulating. Sentences can feel out of date almost as they are written. As medical writers, this has not passed us by.

There is a constant anxiety that one is going to be falsely accused of using ChatGPT to do all the heavy lifting, or worse, write the entire thing. Admit it, you are wondering if AI was asked to write a mildly pithy blog about the disguised use of itself…

Asked to defend itself, AI might point out some of its many positive uses… it is a tool to support human creativity, not replace it, it might say.

For writing in the health and medical fields, it can assist with editing and formatting, plagiarism analysis, or even peer review. Natural-language processing (NLP)-based AI can rapidly produce multiple texts, adapted for different readers.

Using AI to establish and utilise criteria to select an appropriate cohort for a clinical trial and then manage the subsequent data could save huge amounts of time. The direct result might be effective treatments brought to market far more quickly.

And the list could go on…

Sci-Fi fears made fact?

Many of us feel a sense of resignation that the spread of AI usage is inevitable, regardless of whether it is desirable.

However, this is really not so far from saying that it is a developing tool, with obvious benefits, which people will increasingly want to use. That does not exclude continuing to recognise the value humans can add, but rather shifts the focus to harnessing the technology to provide the maximum benefit within appropriate parameters.

A positive view of AI in this field would focus on the ability to manage, analyse and reliably and consistently summarise large volumes of complex data. There is still value to be added by humans once this data has been dealt with.

Providing wider context and an applied perspective will remain critical in peer reviewed journals, for example.

Ethical considerations and AI

Ethical considerations are high on the list of quoted concerns about the use of AI, particularly in a medical context. In-built bias, possible misinformation and anxiety around data privacy are all legitimate areas to highlight. The most sceptical might even go so far as to suggest that human bad actors are designing malign effects into the technology.

On the other hand, there could be ethical advantages. Humans are certainly susceptible to bias. Confidentiality may actually be protected where data can be processed and analysed without human involvement.

As humans, we have feelings which either interfere with or contribute to our opinion on any given subject. Where that subject includes questions around the relative value of our humanity, this may be exacerbated.

What do patients think about AI in healthcare?

Amongst patients, as with professionals, there appears to be a huge variation in levels of awareness of, and attitudes to, AI and related technological developments in healthcare. Opinions aren’t uniform across circumstances.

We might be comfortable with AI reading a scan, but not with it providing a definitive diagnosis. Patients are understandably anxious that their privacy is not compromised, and there clearly remains value in human interaction and the interpersonal skills that are so important in enhancing patient experience and understanding.

A number of factors may impact patients’ views: age, economic status and employment sector might all influence both the level of awareness of AI which in turn could shape opinions. With so many variables, it is clear much more research is needed.

How might the role of medical writer evolve?

Medical writers are certainly not immune from the fear of becoming obsolete.

Technology surrounds and, in some senses, governs our daily lives in ways which we are not always conscious of. As our awareness increases, we might feel unsettled. We are dealing with something that displays characteristics, such as decision-making, that we might previously have considered reserved for humans.

And it’s true: our role is likely to evolve in response to technological advancements, especially AI.

So, what could this look like?

  • We may work more closely with AI to streamline workflows and improve efficiency of tasks, like literature reviews or data analysis
  • We will likely be focused on critically analysing research findings, interpreting complex data, and providing all-important context to ensure meaningful communications
  • We will be relied upon to tailor content to specific human audiences, particularly patient-friendly content
  • We will take on greater responsibility in addressing ethical considerations related to AI, ensuring content is compliant and transparent
  • We will play a role in strategic communication and strategy-building for organisations and researchers  
  • We will concentrate of creative endeavours, like storytelling, creating engaging narratives, and explaining complex concepts in simple terms.

The future role of medical writers will involve a combination of collaboration with AI tools, critical analysis, and effective communication to various stakeholders. AI is likely to enhance the efficiency and capabilities of medical writers, allowing them to focus on tasks that require human expertise.

Still, it is important that we do not sit still. Learning and adaptation will be crucial; a challenging prospect given the speed at which AI seems to be developing. It is vital we stay relevant in order to meaningfully contribute.  

References

Khullar D, Casalino LP, Qian Y, Lu Y, Krumholz HM, Aneja S. Perspectives of Patients About Artificial Intelligence in Health Care. JAMA Netw Open. 2022;5(5):e2210309. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2022.10309

Parisis, N., 2019. Medical writing in the era of artificial intelligence. Medical Writing, 28, pp.4-9.

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