Tech-savvy healthcare consumer? There’s a robot doctor in your future

There’s probably a lot of overlap between computer “power users” and individuals who are comfortable with machines replacing humans in the workplace.

Either way, both those traits are predictors of a person’s willingness to entrust his or her healthcare to automated doctors, nurses and receptionists.

Researchers at Penn State found as much after recruiting study participants from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk online staffing system.

The team queried the volunteers on their attitudes toward and beliefs about machines’ competency—aka their “machine heuristic”—then had them interact with humans, avatars and robots representing healthcare workers.

Finally, the researchers moderated online chat sessions in which the participants were tested on their acceptance of the automated healthcare providers as well as their willingness to use such providers in the future.

Their key finding was the aforementioned combination of traits predicting high acceptance of automated healthcare.

“Our results suggest that the key to implementing automation in healthcare facilities may be to design the interface so that it appeals to expert users who have a high belief in machine abilities,” said S. Shyam Sundar, PhD, founder of Penn State’s Media Effects Research Laboratory and the project’s lead researcher.

“Designers can direct resources toward improving features such as chat functionality instead of anthropomorphizing healthcare robots,” Sundar added in a press release. “In addition, increasing the number of power users and the general belief that machines are trustworthy may increase the adoption of automated services.”

The team presented its work May 8 in Scotland at the Association for Computing Machinery’s annual conference on human factors in computing systems.