Can Artificial Intelligence address health workforce shortages?


As the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in disease detection and patient data interpretation gains traction in research studies, these technologies are poised to become more accessible in healthcare settings. However, questions arise regarding the impact of AI on the workload of healthcare professionals, especially in the context of growing health worker shortages in European countries.

Natasha Azzopardi-Muscat, Director of Country Health Policies and Systems at the World Health Organization (WHO) European Regional Office, acknowledges the looming health workforce crisis in Europe due to demographic trends and an aging population. Many general practitioners are approaching retirement, exacerbating the shortage of healthcare professionals. A WHO report revealed that approximately 40 percent of medical doctors in one-third of European and Central Asian countries are nearing retirement age, underscoring the severity of the situation.

At the same time, healthcare workers in various countries have staged strikes demanding higher pay and reduced overtime hours, highlighting regional disparities and public sector shortages. Against this backdrop, can AI alleviate the workload for healthcare professionals?

Azzopardi-Muscat suggests that while some health workers may view digital technologies as an added burden, these tools should ideally free up time by supporting clinical decision-making. AI can streamline administrative tasks such as appointment scheduling, hospital coordination, and communicating diagnoses, allowing doctors to focus on critical face-to-face patient interactions that require empathy and care.

Experts believe that AI’s most promising application may lie in healthcare administration. By automating administrative tasks, AI platforms can relieve healthcare professionals of non-specialized duties, enabling them to concentrate on triage, diagnostics, and clinical care. Moreover, using AI for administrative purposes may require less stringent regulatory approval compared to diagnostic AI systems, facilitating their integration into existing workflows.

Bart de Witte, CEO of the Hippo AI Foundation, envisions a future where doctors communicate with machines through natural language, eliminating the need for manual note-taking.

However, implementing AI in healthcare faces challenges. Tom Davenport, a professor at Babson College, notes that AI innovations have been slow to enter clinical practice due to regulatory approvals, reimbursement issues, and the standalone nature of many AI systems. Currently, most approved AI systems focus on analyzing radiological images, such as AI-assisted breast cancer screening, which has shown promise in detecting more cancers but raises concerns about overdiagnosis.

International organizations, including the United Nations and WHO, have called for increased AI regulation, recognizing the rapid evolution of AI technology has outpaced regulatory capacity.

Regarding potential job loss, Davenport believes it is more likely in administrative roles than clinical positions, given the existing shortage of clinicians. While jobs involving data and note-reading may see some reductions, he believes it won’t be substantial. Wiljeana Jackson Glover, a health innovation and entrepreneurship professor at Babson College, agrees, emphasizing that AI is about augmenting administrative work, with additional roles emerging to manage nuanced tasks beyond AI capabilities.

Glover predicts that full automation is still at least a decade away, leaving time to prepare the workforce for collaboration with these tools. She sees significant opportunities for training and guiding AI use during implementation.

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Hanzalah Choudhury
Hanzalah Choudhuryhttps://www.cse.cuhk.edu.hk/
Hanzalah Choudhury is a Computer Engineer from the Wu Yee Sun College of the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK). He is currently an Artificial Intelligence researcher at the Department of Computer Science and Engineering of CUHK, alongside pursuing further studies aiming at a Ph.D. He specializes in Artificial Intelligence and VLSI (Very-large Scale Integrated) Design. Email: [email protected]

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