Free EMR Newsletter Want to receive the latest news on EMR, Meaningful Use, ARRA and Healthcare IT sent straight to your email? Join thousands of healthcare pros who subscribe to EMR and EHR for FREE!

Fixing Medical Record Errors Should Be Easier In Age of EHRs

Posted on December 14, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the advent of EHRs made it more likely that information in medical records was accurate? Sadly, that’s hardly the case.

In fact, patient matching issues actually seem to make it more likely that the wrong patient data makes it into a chart. Add problems with busy physicians making the occasional cut-and-paste error, and you can have a real mess on your hands.

I was thinking about this today when I read the story of Morgan Gleason, a woman who went through a struggle to get documentation of two non-existent pregnancies out of her medical records. Gleason, who suffers from a rare autoimmune disease, is a pro at managing her health, but had to fight hard to correct these errors, according to a CNBC story.

Gleason’s tale begins two years ago when she requested her medical records after a visit to a Florida women’s health clinic. With the help of her mother, who worked at health IT firm CareSync, Gleason stored all of her medical records in one place once she received them.

When she received the clinic records, she was surprised to find notes saying that she had two children, one living and the other having died shortly after being born. Gleason had never been pregnant.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the first time she found a serious mistake in records. In the past, she told CNBC, a diagnosis of diabetes apparently popped up in her records, which was also erroneous data.

In this case, when she called the clinic to report the error an assistant on the other end of the line told her that she was wrong about her own medical history.

Gleason told CNBC that the assistant simply wouldn’t listen to her. “If you hadn’t told us this, there’s no way this could have been in your chart,” the assistant reportedly told her. The clinic didn’t change the record until Gleason made a formal request for it to be changed.

I can understand why the clinic might have wanted the changes to be requested in writing. Changing a patient’s record does have legal significance. At the same time, though, providers should have an easy-to-explain process in place for making appropriate changes.

In my view — particularly as someone with chronic illnesses — it’s inexcusable when an institution makes it hard for patients to correct mistakes. On the contrary, medical practices and facilities should be delighted if someone does the quality control for them, rather than leaving them open to liability when they make mistakes based on incorrect documentation.

Now more than ever, it seems to me to the culture of resisting patient interaction with their records has got to go. If you’re not sure how patients are treated when they make such requests, I encourage you to try and make such changes yourself and see how far you get.

 

Three Ways AI Can Improve Physicians’ Workflow

Posted on November 26, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

For far too many physicians, EHRs and other important health IT seem to get in the way of getting the job done. But according to one pair of physician-authors, emerging AI technology has the potential to improve physician workflow instead.

“We see opportunities for AI to be a solution for—rather than a contributor to—burnout among physicians and achieving the Quadruple Aim of improving health, enhancing the experience of care, reducing cost and attaining joy in work for health professionals,” wrote AMA chief medical information officer Michael Hodgkins, MD, MPH and Shantanu Nundy, MD, director of the Human Diagnosis Project.

In an article for the journal Health Affairs, Drs. Hodgkins and Nundy outlined three ways in which AI could be used to make physicians’ work easier and more satisfying. They include:

  • Delivering educational information to the point of care: At present, most educational efforts targeting physicians don’t do a good job of keeping physicians up to date, as they aren’t targeted enough, the article asserts. However, by using AI, healthcare organizations can offer personalized content to physicians by reviewing their existing research habits. By analyzing practice data, online search queries and assessments, AI can provide a streamlined infostream offering only what they need.
  • Producing clinical documentation: The authors argue that AI will someday be able to complete clinical documentation tasks on the physicians’ behalf. In their view, these AI applications will analyze a given physician’s free-text narrative, extract relevant information and insert the information into the right data fields in their EHR. (Researchers are testing out some concrete approaches for doing this.)
  • Collecting information needed for quality-measurement reporting: Hodgkins and Nundy envision a scenario in which AI tools spare doctors the need to perform hours of redundant quality reporting duties. As in the documentation example, such tools would review clinical documents and extract needed information, though this time in search of meeting external requirements. They would then populate data fields in need of completion on submission forms.

These are comparatively straightforward applications of AI. In addition to the trio of possibilities suggested above, AI could eventually deliver clinical decision support on the fly, speed and improve the accuracy of medical image interpretation and more.

In the meantime, however, it’s hard to disagree with these authors that physicians could benefit a great deal from AI tools that make basic clinical workflow faster and less draining.

Can AI Inspire Medical Creativity?

Posted on November 16, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

As the capabilities of healthcare AI tools grow, vendors continue to insist that as with previous generations of technology, AI will simply do the grunt work and free doctors’ minds up for higher uses.

For what it’s worth, the research strongly suggests that this is true.  By all accounts, we are incalculably far from creating technology that can think like a trained human or apply empathy and insight to complex problems.

In the meantime, we may see some unexpected benefits from watching AI tackle healthcare problems. According to Nick Peters, a professor of cardiology and head of cardiac electrophysiology at Imperial College London, observing AI at work may jog physicians’ creativity and push them in directions they never would’ve gone otherwise.

Peters, whose article appears on the World Economic Forum website, believes that because AIs, well, think different(ly), they can sometimes inspire their human partners to try new things. “Machines are beginning to challenge human imagination in a way that may not have been anticipated, and which could…unleash a revolution in creativity,” he asserts.

Among the first changes this revolution may bring in a shift in how we track health. Peters argues that while we currently assess a patient’s status by measuring phenomena like blood pressure, respiration, and pulse, AI will replace these measures with subtler approaches.

Over time, we will use machine learning to identify other signals derived from the use of consumer devices which serve the care process better, Peters argues. “It will enable entirely new fields of cheaper, better and more cost-effective clinical science to emerge that may supersede blunt measurements such as the likes of blood pressure,” he writes.

He predicts that the data which will identify these pathways will spring in part from devices like the Apple Watch 4, which incorporates an ECG. These smart consumer devices, in turn, will eventually be able to alert and recruit a nearby citizen who has registered their competence to deliver CPR, he notes. This could have a major impact on survival rates for time-sensitive problems like cardiac arrest, Peters writes.

As interesting as his observations are, the article is too short. I do wish Peters had extended his argument further and attempted to answer more questions about the impact of AI and analytics on medical practice.

For example, if we are poised to discover health measures which take the place of basic metrics like blood pressure checks, how will we determine whether these new measures deliver the kind of results the old-fashioned ones do? What other medical processes will be transformed, and how?  Also, should we focus AI development on finding alternative approaches to traditional care processes or are they just side benefits that might evolve out of other useful analysis?

Still, merely by envisioning AI as a spur to healthcare creativity, Peters has done us a service. Perhaps physicians will benefit from inevitable differences in which humans and AI software process information rather than working at cross-purposes.

Stanford Offers 10-Year Vision For EHRs

Posted on October 12, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Despite many efforts to improve EHRs, few physicians see them as adding value to the practice. Sadly, it’s little surprise given that many vendors don’t worry much about what physicians want, focusing instead on selling features to CIOs.

As a result, they still don’t like their EHRs that much. In fact, a recent survey conducted by Stanford Medicine and the Harris Poll found that 44% of physicians said that the top value of the EHR was to serve as digital storage, which isn’t a ringing endorsement. Just eight percent saw the EHR as having clinical value, with three percent citing disease prevention, 2% clinical decision support and 3% patient engagement as top benefits.

Is it possible to create a new EHR model that physicians love? According to Stanford, we could build out an ideal EHR by the year 2028.

In Stanford’s vision, clinicians and other healthcare professionals simply take care of the patients without having to think about health records. Once examinations are complete, information would flow seamlessly to all parties involved, including payers, hospitals, physicians and the patient.

Meanwhile, it would be possible to populate the EHR with little or no effort. For example, an automated physician’s assistant would “listen” to interactions between the doctor and the patient and analyze what was said. Depending on what is said in the room, along with verbal cues of the clinicians, it would record all relevant information in the physical exam.

What’s more, the automated physician’s assistant would have AI capabilities, allowing it to synthesize medical literature, the patient’s history and relevant histories of other patients available in anonymized, aggregated form.

Having reviewed these factors, the system would then populate different possible diagnoses for the clinician to address. The analysis would take patient characteristics into account, including lifestyle, medication history, and genetic makeup.

In addition to its vision, the survey report offered some short-term recommendations on how medical practices can support physician EHR use. They included:

  • Training physicians well on how to use the EHR when they’re coming on board, as well as when there are incremental changes to the system
  • Involving physicians in the development of clinical workflows that take advantage of EHR capabilities
  • Delivering EHR development projects as quickly as possible once physicians request them
  • Making data analytics abilities available to physicians in a manner that can be used intuitively at the point of care
  • Considering automated solutions to eliminate manual EHR documentation

Technologists, for their part, can take also take immediate steps to support physician EHR use, including:

  • Developing systems and product updates in partnership with physicians
  • Limiting the use of manual EHR documentation by using AI, natural language processing and other emerging technologies
  • Using AI to perform several other functions, including synthesizing and summarizing relevant information in the EHR for each patient encounter and offering current and contextualized information to each member of the patient care team

In addition, to boost the value of EHRs over the long-term, 67% of physicians said making interoperability work was important, followed by improving predictive analytics capabilities (43%), and integrating financial information into the EHR to help patients understand care costs (32%).

A Next Step For Personalized Medicine? Vendor Brings Genomics To Ambulatory EHR

Posted on October 8, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Most physicians have some sense of the value personalized medicine can bring to their practice, but I doubt that many have ready access to the tools they’d need to harness its power.

In an effort to close that gap – and of course, to make its platform irreplaceable – a vendor serving medical practices has struck a deal giving physicians the ability to order genetic tests and leverage them to improve care.

The vendor, DrChrono, offers a suite of electronic systems for physicians, including an EHR which can be customized by bundling in affiliated apps. Its new partner is Genomind, a personalized medicine platform offering genetic testing for psychiatry practices.

Physicians using DrChrono will have access to two Genomind test kits, along with some analytics tools they can use to make use of the testing data.

One of the tests is Mindful DNA Professional, a genetic test used by clinicians to help them guide wellness decisions. The test targets aspects of a patient’s genetic details which could have an impact on overall health, such as variants suggesting that they could have sleep issues or a predisposition to anxiety, depression or impaired cognition.

DrChrono users will also have access to the Genecept Assay, the results of which can guide the treatment of psychiatric conditions. Once test results become available on the Genomind system, doctors can use its gene-drug-environmental interaction tool, the Genomind Drug Interaction Guide, to inform their treatment decisions. With the help of the Guide, clinicians can analyze the patient’s current medication regimen and flag gene-drug interactions.

An interesting side note to all of this is that the final test results from Genomind will be stored in the DrChrono information library for the patient and become part of the patient’s medical record.

Looked at one way, sharing the Genomind test results seems almost like a no-brainer in a world where casual genetic testing (think 23andMe) is becoming the norm. On the other, though, I don’t want to gloss over the fact that using genetic data to search for relatives is one thing and putting it into your personal medical record is quite another. It suggests that of consumer-driven demand for precision treatment is maturing, and that Genomind is on the right side of this trend.

This takes me back to DrChrono, which while not itself reinventing the wheel has struck a smart deal here. Not only has it brought a tool on board which could offer some benefit to physicians, its supporting the collection of information (genetic data) that patients are beginning to want. If DrChrono can give patients their genetic info via a decent portal, the company may find itself to be in demand with patients. Way to stay abreast of the times.

Practice’s EMR Implementation Drove Up Costs For Six Months

Posted on September 28, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Everyone knows that providers incur EMR-related costs until well after it is implemented. According to a new study, in fact, one medical incurred higher costs for six months after its implementation.

The study, which appeared recently in The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery, calculated the impact of an EMR implementation on labor costs and productivity at an outpatient orthopedic clinic. The researchers conducting the study used time-driven activity-based costing to estimate EMR-related expenses.

To conduct the study, the research team timed 143 patients prospectively throughout their clinic visit, both before implementation of the hospital system-wide EMR and then again at two months, six months and two years after the implementation.

The researchers found that after the first two months, total labor costs per patient had shot up from $36.88 to $46.04.

One reason for the higher costs was a growth in the amount of time attending surgeons spent per patient, which went up from 9.38 to 10.97 minutes, increasing surgeon cost from $21 to $27.01. In addition, certified medical assistants for spending what time assessing patients, with the time spent almost tripling from 3.42 to 9.1 minutes.

On top of all of this, providers were spending more than twice as much time documenting patient encounters as they had before, up to 7.6 minutes from 3.3 minutes prior to the implementation.

By the six-month mark, however, labor costs per patient had largely returned to their previous levels, settling at $38.75 compared with $36.88 prior to the installation, and expense which remain at the same level when calculated at two years after the EMR implementation.

However, providers were spending even more time documenting encounters than they had before the rolling, with time climbing to 8.43 minutes or roughly 5 minutes more than prior to the introduction of the EMR. Not only that, providers were spending less time interacting with patients, falling to 10.03 as compared with 14.65 minutes in the past.

Sadly, we might have been able to predict this outcome. Clearly, the clinic’s EMR implementation has burdened its providers and further minimized time the providers spend with their patients. This, unfortunately, is more of a rule than an exception.

So why did the ortho practice even bother? It’s hard to say. The study doesn’t say what the practice hoped to accomplish by putting the EMR in place, or whether it met those goals. Given that the system was still in place after two years one would hope that it was providing some form of value.

Truthfully, I’d much rather have learned about what the clinic actually got for its investment than how long it took to get everyone trained up and using it. To be fair, though, this data might have some relevance to the hospital systems that manage a broad spectrum of medical practices, and that’s worth something.

Don’t Be The Last Practice To “Get” Digital Health

Posted on September 14, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Physicians, are you savvy about the digital health technologies your patients use? Do you make it easy for them to interact with you digitally and share the health data they generate? If not, you need to move ahead and get there already. While you may be satisfied with sidestepping the whole subject, patients aren’t, a recent report suggests.

As you probably know already a growing number of patients, most notably millennials, are integrating digital health tools into their everyday lives.

Research from Rock Health, which surveyed about 4,000 consumers, found that the share of respondents using at least one digital tool (such as telemedicine, digital health tracking apps or wearables) hit 87% last year. To get a sense of how impressive this is, bear in mind that just five years ago, only a tiny handful of consumers had given any of these tools a try.

What’s also of note is that some of these consumers were willing to skip insurance and pay out of pocket for digital care. One particularly clear example of this involves live video telemedicine; Sixty-nine percent of consumers who paid out of pocket for such consults said they were “extremely satisfied” with the experience.

Patients who reported having a chronic health condition seemed less likely to use digital tools to track their health metrics. Case in point: When it came to blood pressure tracking, just 11% captured this data with a digital app or journal. However, this may reflect the higher-than-average of those diagnosed with elevated pressures, a senior population with a lower level of tech sophistication.

Lest all of this sound intimidating, there’s at least some good news here. Apparently, a full 86% of respondents said that they’d be willing to share data with their physician, a much larger share than those who would exchange data with a health plan (58%) or pharmacy (52%). In other words, they trust you, which is a big asset under these circumstances.

If you want to dive into digital health more deeply, here’s a few obvious places to start:

  • Link in-person and telemedicine visits: Rock Health found that a whopping 92% pf respondents who had an in-person visit first were satisfied with their video visit.
  • Be vigilant about data security: Almost 9 out of 10 consumers participating in the survey said that they would be willing to share data with you. Don’t lose that trust to a health data breach; it will be hard if not impossible to get it back.
  • Bring chronically-ill seniors on board: While this group may not be terribly inclined to digitize their healthcare, doing so can help you treat them more effectively, so you’ll probably want to make that point up front.

Like it or not, wearables, fitness bands, mobile health apps, and other digital health tools have arrived. It’s no longer a matter of if you take advantage of them, but when and how. Don’t be the last practice in your neighborhood that just doesn’t get it.

The Latest Look At How Physicians Share PHI Electronically

Posted on August 22, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Over the last several years, I’ve read many a report on physicians’ sharing of health data. The key metrics most observers use to measure these efforts are how often physicians send and receive data and what type of data they’re sending.

I’m not so sure that this measurement offers the best look at health data sharing. I’m more interested in what doctors do with the information than what they shared and received. My guess is that these reports measure PHI coming and going because it’s simply more practical and does offer at least some insight.

In that spirit, I present to you some numbers from the CDC’s National Health Statistics Reports. That data comes from the 2015 National Electronic Health Records Survey, a nationally-representative survey of nonfederal office-based physicians. The study estimates the types PHI doctors electronically sent, searched for, received and integrated.

Survey results included the following:

  • Among physicians who sent PHI electronically, the most common types of data sent were referrals (67.9%), laboratory results (67.2%) and medication lists (65.1%). The least commonly observed types were summary of care records (51.5%), registry data (55.9%) and imaging reports (56.6%).
  • When these physicians received PHI, the most common types the study found were laboratory results (78.8%), imaging (60.8%) and medication lists (54.4%). The types seen least often included ED notifications (34.5%), hospital discharge summaries (42.5%) and registry data (43.2%).
  • For physicians who integrated PHI electronically, the most commonly observed types were laboratory results (73.2%), imaging reports (49.8%) and hospital discharge summaries (48.7%). PHI least commonly integrated included registry data (30.9%), problem lists (32.7%) and medication allergy lists (36.1%).
  • The most common reasons physicians searched for PHI electronically were to find medication lists (90.2%), medication allergy lists (88.2%) and hospital discharge summaries (80.4%), followed by imaging reports (58.9%), laboratory results (48.5%) and problem lists (41.2%).

The CDC analysis of this data notes that it might be smart to articulate the differences between primary care PHI exchange and specialist PHI exchange. It rightfully points out that research which breaks down such data not only by specialty, but also office setting, practice size and EHR vendor would be a good idea.

These aren’t the only issues left unaddressed, though. What strikes me about this data is that there’s little symmetry between what doctors send and what they receive. There’s also little overlap between the sharing stats and those regarding what they integrate. Their priorities when searching for information seem to be on their own track as well.

What does this mean? It’s hard to tell. But I think someone should look at the differences in how doctors participate in various forms of electronic exchange of PHI. These differences probably say something, and it would be nice to know what it is.

 

 

Some Alexa Health “Skills” Don’t Comply With Amazon Medical Policies

Posted on July 18, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

It’s becoming predictable: A company offering AI assistant for scheduling medical appointments thinks that consumers want to use Amazon’s Alexa to schedule appointments with their doctor. The company, Nimblr, is just one of an expanding number of developers that see Alexa integration as an opportunity for growth.

However, Nimblr and its peers have stepped into an environment where the standards for health applications are a bit slippery. That’s no fault of theirs, but it might affect the future of Amazon Alexa health applications, which can ultimately affect every developer that works with the Alexa interface.

Nimblr’s Holly AI has recently begun to let patients book and reschedule appointments using Alexa voice commands. According to its prepared statement, Nimblr expects to integrate with other voice command platforms as well, but Alexa is clearly an important first step.

The medical appointment service is integrated with a range of EHRs, including athenahealth, Care Cloud and DrChrono.  To use the service, doctors sign up and let Holly access their calendar and EHR.

Patients who choose to use the Amazon interface go through a scripted dialogue allowing them to set, change or cancel an appointment with their doctor. The patient uses Alexa to summon Holly, then tells Holly the doctor with whom they’d like to book an appointment. A few commands later, the patient has booked a visit. No need to sit at a computer or peer at a smartphone screen.

For Amazon, this kind of agreement is the culmination of a long-term strategy. According to an article featured in Quartz Alexa is now in roughly 20 million American homes and owns more than 70% of the US market for voice-driven assistants. Recently it’s made some power moves in healthcare — including the acquisition of online pharmacy PillPack. It’s has also worked to build connections with healthcare partners, including third-party developers that can enrich the healthcare options available to Alexa users.

Most of the activity that drives Alexa comes from “skills,” which resemble smartphone apps, made available on the Alexa store by independent developers. According to Quartz, the store hosted roughly 900 skills in its “health and fitness” category on the Alexa skills store as of mid-April.

In theory, externally-developed health skills must meet three criteria: they may not collect personal information from customers, cannot imply that they are life-saving by names and descriptions and must include a disclaimer stating that they are not medical devices — and that users should ask their providers if they believe they need medical attention.

However, according to Quartz, as of mid-April there were 65 skills in the store that didn’t provide the required disclaimer. If so, this raises questions as to how stringently Amazon supervises the skills uploaded by its third-party developers.

Let me be clear that I’m not criticizing Nimblr in any way. As far as I know, the company is doing everything the right way. My only critiques would be that it’s not clear to me why its Alexa tool is much more useful than a plain old portal, and that of the demo video is any indication, that the interactions between Alexa and the consumer are a trifle awkward. On the whole, it seems like a useful tool and will likely get better over time.

However, with a growing number of healthcare developers featuring apps Alexa’s skills store, it will be worth watching to see if Amazon enforces its own rules. If not, reputable developers like Nimblr might not want to go there.

This Futurist Says AI Will Never Replace Physicians

Posted on June 6, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Most of us would agree that AI technology has amazing — almost frightening — potential to change the healthcare world. The thing is, no one is exactly sure what form those changes will take, and some fear that AI technologies will make their work obsolete. Doctors, in particular, worry that AI will undercut their decision-making process or even take their jobs.

Their fears are not entirely misplaced. Vendors in the healthcare AI world insist that their products are intended solely to support care, but of course, they need to say that. It’s not surprising that doctors fret as AI software starts to diagnose conditions, triage patients and perform radiology readings.

But according to medical futurist Bertalan Mesko, MD, Ph.D., physicians have nothing to worry about. “AI will transform the meaning of what it means to be a doctor; some tasks will disappear while others will be added to the work routine,” Mesko writes. “However, there will never be a situation where the embodiment of automation, either a robot or an algorithm, will take the place of a doctor.”

In the article, Mesko lists five reasons why he takes this position:

  1. Empathy is irreplaceable: “Even if the array of technologies will offer brilliant solutions, it would be difficult for them to mimic empathy,” he argues. “… We will need doctors holding our hands while telling us about life-changing diagnoses, their guide to therapy and their overall support.”
  2. Physicians think creatively: “Although data, measurements and quantitative analytics are a crucial part of a doctor’s work…setting up a diagnosis and treating a patient is not a linear process. It requires creativity and problem-solving skills that algorithms and robots will ever have,” he says.
  3. Digital technologies are just tools: “It’s only doctors together with their patients who can choose [treatments], and only physicians can evaluate whether the smart algorithm came up with potentially useful suggestions,” Mesko writes.
  4. AI can’t do everything: “There are responsibilities and duties which technologies cannot perform,” he argues. “… There will always be tasks where humans will be faster, more reliable — or cheaper than technology.”
  5. AI tech isn’t competing with humans: “Technology will help bring medical professionals towards a more efficient, less error-prone and more seamless healthcare,” he says. “… The physician will have more time for the patient, the doctor can enjoy his work in healthcare will move into an overall positive direction.”

I don’t have much to add to his analysis. I largely agree with what he has to say.

I do think he may be wrong about the world needing physicians to make all diagnoses – after all, a sophisticated AI tool could access millions of data points in making patient care recommendations. However, I don’t think the need for human contact will ever go away.