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Nurses Clash with AI over Patient Care

Posted on July 3, 2023

Artificial intelligence can analyze massive amounts of data to help assess, diagnose, and treat patients. But when nurses and artificial intelligence (AI) clash over patient care, who makes the decision—the human or the machine? A recent article in the Wall Street Journal explored the current standoff of AI vs. RN.

The article shared stories about nurses who deferred to AI rather than relying on their own observation skills, for fear of breaking hospital protocols and being disciplined. In one instance, AI flagged a patient for sepsis because of his high white blood cell count but didn’t consider that he had leukemia. The nurse knew better but took the blood sample anyway. She could have overridden the system but would have faced disciplinary action if she was wrong. As it turned out, she was right.

A recent survey of over 1,000 nurses corroborated that this is happening more and more. When prompted by a clinical algorithm to make decisions that are not in the best interest of the patient, 17% of nurses were permitted to override the decision. But 31% weren’t allowed and 34% needed a doctor’s or supervisor’s permission.

Many in the profession agree that AI should not make the ultimate decision. It should be able to be overridden by an expert. Yet newer nurses tend to trust the algorithm over their own observation skills. Clinicians who are penalized for making wrong decisions may defer to AI as well.

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