AI-powered tools like ChatGPT can aid patients in understanding heart diseases better, but any advice it dispenses should be reviewed by a medical professional.

Technology has transformed the way people learn. Since the birth of the internet, people have taken to search engines to seek information on a wide range of subjects. When it comes to finding out more about a disease, its symptoms and treatments, one usually has to sift through pages of unverified information.

Today, with user-friendly interfaces and simple-to-understand conversational language, free artificial intelligence (AI)-powered tools like Chat Generative Pretrained Transformer (ChatGPT) are shaking things up.

In Singapore, medical collaborations with natural-language AI models are taking off. A National Heart Centre Singapore (NHCS) research team — whose members include Dr Samuel Koh (above), Senior Resident, and Clinical Associate Professor Jonathan Yap, Consultant, Department of Cardiology (below,) — decided to evaluate how well ChatGPT can provide adequate explanations to patients on common procedures and conditions. In an article entitled ‘Leveraging ChatGPT to aid patient education on coronary angiogram’ published last July in Annals of the Academy of Medicine Singapore, Dr Koh and his team suggested that heart disease patients may seek information through the large language model regarding their condition. Dr Koh said: “ChatGPT is the next game changer through its interactive and conversational style, summarising facts in simple language suitable for the layperson.”

Read more: Lower your risk of heart disease with these 5 simple and effective lifestyle changes. Click here to learn more. 

Given the high rates of ischaemic heart disease and heart failure in Singapore, the research team focused on common conditions and procedures such as coronary angiography and heart failure. Among the many benefits, they found that ChatGPT provided jargon-free answers that a layperson would find easy to understand. ChatGPT’s responses to heart disease questions were also presented in an organised, in-depth manner.

Despite this, the team was quick to stress that ChatGPT, in its current form, has its drawbacks. “The performance of ChatGPT currently is insufficient to replace the role of a healthcare provider in delivering personalised health advice and management,” said Dr Koh. “Information taken from ChatGPT needs to be verified with a healthcare professional.” This is because ChatGPT at times produced significant factual inaccuracies. For instance, the team noted that ChatGPT’s answers regarding coronary angiogram incorrectly listed the risks associated with angiography.

The team also noted that ChatGPT omitted several recommendations that would have been addressed in a consultation. For example, it did not factor in non-cardiac causes of chest pain and breathlessness when asking about symptoms of heart disease and the need for a coronary angiography.

Most importantly, ChatGPT lacked the human touch of a physician. This was a finding of a paper co-authored by Dr Koh and Clinical Associate Professor David Sim, Head and Senior Consultant, Department of Cardiology, NHCS (‘Educating patient with advanced heart failure through chat generative pretrained transformer and natural-language artificial intelligence: Is now the time for it?’, published in Journal of Palliative Medicine in July 2023). ChatGPT’s responses were “generic” and “failed to take into account the specific circumstances of the individual”. End-of-life planning calls for more empathetic and humanistic approaches, but ChatGPT was unable to manage the user’s emotional response and acknowledged its own limitation by saying that it had no intent to provide religious or spiritual guidance involved in end-of-life planning. Therefore, the team recommended that patients discuss such topics with their doctors and palliative care specialists.

ChatGPT, while somewhat useful, cannot replace a qualified medical professional. Despite ChatGPT’s current limitations, its ease of access, user-friendly interface, and quality of answers make it a potentially helpful adjunct in the care and management of patients.

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