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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.

AI Making Doctors Better Is the Right Approach

Posted on September 6, 2017 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

This summer Bertalan Meskó, MD, PhD posted 10 ways that AI (Artificial Intelligence) could make him a better doctor. Here are his 10 ways:

1) Eradicate waiting time
2) Prioritize my emails
3) Find me the information I need
4) Keep me up-to-date
5) Work when I don’t
6) Help me make hard decisions rational
7) Help patients with urgent matters reach me
8) Help me improve over time
9) Help me collaborate more
10) Do administrative work

This is a great list of ways that AI can make doctors better. No doubt there are even more ways that we’ll discover as AI continues to improve. However, I love this list because it looks at AI from the appropriate point of reference. AI is going to be something that improves the doctor, not replaces the doctor.

I know that many people have talked about how technology is going to replace the doctor. The most famous of which is Vinod Khosla. However, you have to remember that Vinod is an investor and so he needs to drum up companies with ambitious visions. I believe his statement was as much about finding companies that will push the bounds of healthcare as much as it was his prediction for the future of healthcare. However, it no doubt created a lot of fear for doctors.

The reality is that some aspects of what a doctor does will be replaced by technology, but as the list above illustrates, that can be a very good thing for doctors.

AI is coming to healthcare. In some ways, it’s already here. However, the AI that’s coming today isn’t about replacing the doctor, it’s about making the doctor better. Honestly, any doctor that can’t embrace this idea is a doctor that shouldn’t have a medical license.

Should doctors be cautious in how quickly they adopt the technology and should they take the time to make sure that the AI won’t have adverse impacts on their patients? Absolutely. However, there’s a tipping point where not using AI is going to be much more damaging to patients than the risks that are likely to make headlines and scare many. Doctors need to be more driven by what’s best for their patients than fear inducing headlines.

AI will make doctors lives better in a wide variety of ways. It won’t replace the doctor but will enhance the doctor. That’s exciting!