Patients may back AI robo-docs to clear NHS waiting lists

  • Date

    Wed 27 Mar 24

Jonathan Rolison

AI ‘robodocs’ may hold the key to clearing creaking NHS waiting lists – if patients can be convinced of their accuracy, new research has revealed.

A study by Dr Jonathan Rolison from the Department of Psychology discovered efficient algorithms were preferred to staff when assigning patients to different levels of care.

The research was launched in collaboration with social enterprise Provide – which aims to use cutting-edge tech to improve the health service and cut NHS costs.

It found automatic computer programmes were viewed as less biased and more accurate than humans when triaging.

And human-linked ‘emotional experience’ was seen as the least important quality when making important decisions.

At present 7.58million patients are waiting for treatment and more than 44,000 people who attended England's emergency departments last month endured 12 hour waits or more to be admitted, transferred or discharged.

The latest NHS data showed cancer waiting times in 2023 were the worst on record.


Dr Rolison hopes the study will shine a light on whether the public will accept technology in the health service and how it can be used to clear lengthy NHS waiting lists.

He said: “AI is surrounded in controversy, despite its potential to make real changes in our lives.

“If used correctly it could help the NHS deal with record-waiting lists and we wanted to see how people felt about its use in healthcare.

“Our research shows that in some situations, like triaging patients and sorting them to their care needs, people could be convinced to allow AI technology to make important decisions.

“In fact, the public value AI technology over humans as it is perceived to be less error prone and biased than health care professionals.”


The study suggests that to overcome barriers to patient adoption of AI-tech its capacity for bias-free, and especially error-free, decision-making should be emphasised.

As part of the research, more than 1,350 people were examined across four studies on their perception of AI.

It emerged that human staff were more likely to be seen as better communicators, were more flexible and showed more emotion – but this was not enough to persuade people to choose them over AI.

The research was undertaken as part of a Knowledge Transfer Partnership with Provide – which sees academics work closely with businesses to develop cutting-edge solutions to pressing issues.