In healthcare today, technology is quickly changing how things work, bringing in new possibilities and advancements. But it’s also important to reflect on the heart and soul of nursing—the human resilience that can’t be replicated by artificial intelligence (AI).
As AI becomes part of healthcare, this article reminds us how crucial human resilience is in nursing. It looks at why, even with remarkable technological advancements, AI can never replace compassion.
Can AI Have Empathy?
Empathy is about understanding and sharing others’ emotions. It goes beyond just understanding; it involves resonating emotionally and responding appropriately to others’ feelings. Humans are naturally empathetic and can recognize and connect emotions.
Artificial intelligence does not possess genuine empathy. Although AI systems can be programmed to recognize and respond to human emotions based on predefined patterns, they do not experience emotions themselves. Empathy involves a deep understanding of emotions, the ability to share feelings, and a genuine emotional response—qualities that AI lacks.
No matter how much technology improves, it can’t fully imitate humans’ deep connection. The special relationship between a patient and a nurse, the face-to-face interaction, is essential for healing.
In one of the commonly shared stories, the earliest sign of civilization was a healed fractured femur, indicating that, at some point, one person had cared for another until they had healed.¹ People caring for each other and showing empathy and compassion for others are fundamental parts of our society.
The Vital Role of Human Empathy in Healthcare
Clinical empathy is about tuning into how someone feels and trying to see things from their point of view. This mindset involves a sincere curiosity to learn more about someone else’s perspective, recognizing that one doesn’t fully understand another person’s world or what holds the most significance for them.
According to the AI & Society, they found that this form of human connection is essential in clinical care and improves outcomes in three ways:²
- Accurate diagnosis depends on understanding a patient’s history. Studies worldwide have shown that patients share more information when doctors demonstrate empathy, as observed in recorded doctor-patient interactions.
- How well treatment works depends on the patient sticking to the prescribed plan. More than half of prescriptions aren’t followed, and there are different reasons for that. The most significant factor determining whether patients stick to their treatment is their trust in their doctor. And one significant factor in building that trust is when doctors communicate with empathy.
- When patients have or receive serious diagnoses, it’s easier for them to cope if the information is delivered empathetically and caringly.
Given all these, using AI with genuine empathy is either impossible or unethical. This is because AI lacks genuine empathy, and relying on it in these situations can lessen the expectation that patients deserve authentic human empathy.
AI can be utilized to enhance medicine and patient support but not as a substitute for therapeutic empathy embedded in nurse-patient relationships.
Why AI Can’t Replace Nurses
AI proves useful in many ways, such as creating grocery lists, composing work emails, and even planning vacation itineraries. Like any other tool, it has both advantages and disadvantages.
When it comes to replacing nurses with AI, there are several concerns. It might lead to inaccurate diagnoses, potential breaches of sensitive patient information, and the possibility of reducing the healthcare workforce, which could negatively impact medical care.
A lot of nurses are worried that if we use AI too much, it might make humanity and their expertise less critical in taking care of patients. These concerns show that there is an ongoing debate about whether we should use AI in health care and how it might affect patients and healthcare workers.
However, AI won’t be replacing nurses anytime soon for several reasons:
It Lacks Human Connection
One of the core qualities that sets nurses apart is their ability to empathize and show compassion. While AI can analyze data and perform routine tasks, it lacks the emotional intelligence and understanding that nurses bring to patient interactions.
The human touch, whether it is a comforting word or a reassuring smile during challenging times, is something only a compassionate nurse can provide. This is an empathetic understanding and supportive approach that artificial intelligence, with its lack of genuine emotions, cannot replicate.
The human connection plays an important role in creating a therapeutic environment and fostering a sense of trust and comfort for patients facing health challenges.
Falls Short in Analytical Thinking and Decision-Making
Nurses have well-developed critical thinking skills and clinical judgment acquired through years of nursing education and practical experience. This involves a deep understanding of the patient’s physical and emotional state, which is crucial for making complex decisions in primary care.
They are also trained to assess a wide range of factors, including subtle changes in a patient’s condition, family dynamics, and emotional well-being, a capability that AI currently does not possess. Given the frequent occurrence of unique medical scenarios, AI cannot assess factors differently for each individual case.
AI can assist in data analysis, but the strategic decision-making that nurses excel at goes beyond the capabilities of artificial intelligence.
Struggles With Adaptability and Flexibility
Health care settings are dynamic and can change rapidly. Nurses are trained to adapt to these changes, think critically, and act swiftly in high-pressure situations. Their ability to navigate stressful situations and think of action plans in unexpected scenarios is a testament to their experience and expertise, qualities that AI may struggle to replicate in real time.
Moreover, AI can face difficulties in handling such unforeseen events. Because it relies on pre-programmed algorithms, AI might find it hard to handle situations that are different from what it’s programmed for. Unlike nurses, AI lacks the innate ability to adjust its responses based on the complexities of real-life health care situations.
This shows how nurses, with their ability to adapt and think fast, have a unique human quality that AI doesn’t have.
Has Limitations in Effective Communication
Effective communication is the heart of quality patient care. Nurses build strong relationships with patients, families, and other healthcare professionals. They provide clear explanations, answer questions, and offer emotional support.
While AI can share information, it falls short in how nurses communicate. Nurses use a unique blend of empathy, understanding, and adaptability to tailor their communication to patient needs. They bring a personal touch to their conversations, building trust and contributing to overall patient well-being.
Can’t Provide Patient Advocacy
Nurses play a crucial role as advocates for their patients, ensuring that each patient’s rights, needs, and preferences are respected and validated. This involves addressing medical concerns and considering each patient’s unique circumstances, cultural backgrounds, and personal preferences.
On the other hand, AI may face limitations in fully understanding the patient’s background. This includes providing culturally competent care, where understanding the patient’s cultural background and beliefs is essential for delivering personalized and effective health care.
Nurses are better equipped to handle and address these complexities, ensuring that patient care is technically proficient and in line with and considerate of the patient’s unique background. This cultural sensitivity and how nurses connect with people help them support patients with a more holistic and patient-centered approach, setting them apart from AI.
Unable to Deliver Holistic Patient Care
Effective patient care involves close cooperation within interdisciplinary healthcare teams to provide holistic care. Nurses play an integral role in collaborating with doctors, therapists, and other healthcare professionals to develop comprehensive treatment plans tailored to their individual patient needs. This approach ensures that patients receive holistic care, addressing both medical and non-medical aspects of their well-being.
Even if AI can offer some support, it cannot replace the collaborative nature of nursing practice. This collaboration fosters a team environment where professionals with diverse expertise contribute to the overall care and recovery of the patient.
AI Could Support, Not Replace, Human Healthcare
Technology shouldn’t be viewed as a threat aiming to replace nurses’ jobs but rather as a collection of tools and solutions to make their jobs easier. AI can handle routine and repetitive tasks such as tracking patients’ vital signs, including blood pressure, heart rate, temperature, and respiratory rate.
Seeing AI as a helpful tool can result in advancements in patient care, increased efficiency in workflow, and enhanced job satisfaction for nurses. Using AI can also allow nurses to improve their skills and use this as support in providing a compassionate, patient-focused approach.
This integration in healthcare settings will enhance and automate certain tasks, providing nurses with additional time for patient care, personal development, and self-care.
It’s not about replacing human empathy with AI but using AI to improve human empathy. Remember, at the end of the day, healthcare is about caring for people, and nothing can replace the warmth, understanding, and compassion of the human touch.
FOSTER A TEAM OF COMPASSIONATE NURSES WITH PRS GLOBAL
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1 Sapiens. “Did Margaret Mead Think a Healed Femur Was the Earliest Sign of Civilization?” SAPIENS, 16 June 2022, www.sapiens.org/culture/margaret-mead-femur/.
2 Montemayor, Carlos, et al. “In Principle Obstacles for Empathic AI: Why We Can’t Replace Human Empathy in Healthcare.” AI & SOCIETY, vol. 37, 26 May 2021, link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00146-021-01230-z, https://doi.org/10.1007/s00146-021-01230-z.