Why human-centred aged care decisions are paramount in an AI-driven world

Dr Neryl East

With no shortage of challenges demanding attention, it’s hardly surprising that the biggest technological shift in our lifetimes is only now flickering on the radar of many aged care sector leaders.

The launch late last year of free, publicly available generative AI in the form of ChatGPT sparked a chain of events with significant implications for aged care organisations.

AI-driven technology is not new in aged care, as research progresses on the treatment of disease and even the reversal of ageing itself.

Many providers are yet to scratch the surface of the possibilities and risks posed by ChatGPT and the numerous similar platforms now available, let alone the staggering array of new AI tools emerging every week.

Regardless, this technology has already begun to reshape and redefine the way we interact.

It will increasingly influence communication between providers, clients and families and within aged care organisations.

What is it?

ChatGPT is a chatbot – a computer program that simulates conversation with humans – powered by artificial intelligence and built using a Generative Pre-trained Transformer (GPT) architecture. It’s designed to understand prompts and generate human-like responses.

ChatGPT is free and anyone can create an account to access it.

Since its public launch last November, it has already been improved. ChatGPT4, released in March, surpasses human results in bar exams at multiple US law schools.

Here are just a few examples of the hundreds of freely available platforms (most have free and paid options):

  • Quillbot.com paraphrases, translates and checks for plagiarism in documents
  • App.runwayml.com generates videos and images from your prompts
  • Elevenlabs.io’s voice cloning software generates voiceovers from text
  • Sendsteps.com creates a fully-branded PowerPoint presentation from a document in less than a minute
  • Soundraw.io composes royalty-free music to your specifications

Microsoft will shortly integrate generative AI technology into its standard applications like Word and Excel.

What does it mean for aged care?

Generative AI can take over many time-consuming tasks. There are countless positive uses, provided humans control the quality of the finished product.

A challenge for aged care providers is how to harness it as a major time and resource saver while managing risks including:

  • Inaccuracy: AI platforms like ChatGPT may generate incorrect or misleading information.
  • Data privacy and security: Generative AI relies on large sets of data to generate responses. Providers must ensure personally identifiable and sensitive information is properly handled if used with these platforms.
  • Bias and fairness: Generative AI models are trained on existing data. They don’t filter out inherent biases. A 2023 Monash University study found AI in aged care services can intensify ageism and social inequality, reinforcing views about older people as dependent, incompetent, and disinterested in technology.
  • Malicious use: Generative AI is opening up new possibilities for cybercriminals including impersonating aged care professionals or spreading false information.
  • Copyright and plagiarism: Content produced by ChatGPT and other generative AI platforms may include re-used material including other people’s phrases and images.

What can aged care providers do?

Governments around the world are scrambling to develop guidelines that catch up with this technological onslaught.

At the same time, staff in aged care organisations, as in other sectors, are using or dabbling in various forms of generative AI. Aged care leaders are well advised to:

1. Arm themselves with information by learning about these new and emerging platforms

2. Avoid an initial impulse to ban or outlaw and consider the genuine benefits and opportunities

3. Start conversations now that will lead to robust processes to maintain good governance and manage risk

Australian government interim guidance for public service agencies contains advice that could equally apply in aged care. It recommends publicly available generative AI platforms should only be used when the risk of negative impact is low, adding that unacceptable risk includes situations “where services will be delivered or decisions will be made.”

It also stresses the importance of human-centred decision-making, a concept that serves as a reminder to the aged care sector to balance compassionate care with the perceived benefits of technology.

At this extraordinary time in history, it’s important for aged care leaders to remember that communication is an exchange of meanings between people.

AI is a useful tool, but it’s a human touch that builds true connections.


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