Hundreds of nurses gathered at Kaiser Permanente’s San Francisco Medical Center this week to protest against the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in healthcare.

The demonstration was organised by the California Nurses Association, who believe the hospital industry is rushing to implement AI technology that is untested and unregulated – and could harm patients.

According to a video posted by the San Francisco Chronicle to X,  nurses brandished signs reading ‘Trust Nurses Not AI’ and chanted “AI has got to go!”

The association is calling for nurses and all union members to be involved in the decision-making process for the deployment of AI in “every step”, with Kaiser Permanente an early adopter of AI and other data-driven technologies.

A statement from Michelle Gutierrez Vo, BSN, RN, registered nurse at the Kaiser Permanente Fremont (Calif.) Medical Center and president of the California Nurses Association, reads: “It is deeply troubling to see Kaiser promote itself as a leader in AI in healthcare, when we know their use of these technologies comes at the expense of patient care, all in service of boosting profits.

“Nurses are all for tech that enhances our skills and the patient care experience. But what we are witnessing in our hospitals is the degradation and devaluation of our nursing practice through the use of these untested technologies.”

Cathy Kennedy, RN, a nurse at Kaiser Permanente Roseville (Calif.) Medical Center and a president of the state nursing association, agreed, stating: “Human expertise and clinical judgment are the only ways to ensure safe, effective, and equitable nursing care.

“We know there is nothing inevitable about AI’s advancement into healthcare. No patient should be a guinea pig and no nurse should be replaced by a robot.”

In response to the action, Kaiser Permanente released the following statement: “Kaiser Permanente is empowering nurses with state-of-the-art tools and technologies that support our mission of providing high-quality, affordable health care to best meet our members’ and patients’ needs.

“We have consistently invested in and embraced technology that enables nurses to work more effectively, resulting in improved patient outcomes and nurse satisfaction, and we will continue to do so.

“At Kaiser Permanente, AI tools don’t make medical decisions, our physicians and care teams are always at the center of decision making with our patients. We believe that AI may be able to help our physicians and employees, and enhance our members’ experience. As an organisation dedicated to inclusiveness and health equity, we ensure the results from AI tools are correct and unbiased; AI does not replace human assessment.”

The US took an aggressive stance on the topic of AI safety last year. October 2023 saw President Biden issue an executive order aimed at protecting Americans from potential risks of the technology.

Here in the UK, following the AI Safety Summit in November last year, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency set out new plans in January this year to protect patients while enabling access without delay to innovative new medical technologies, including AI.

A thought leadership report from 2022 from DAC Beachcroft revealed that trust in AI among both patients and healthcare staff will improve with regulation. Exactly what that regulation will look like remains to be seen.