Will AI Mean the End of Doctors?

Written by Matt Harrison
Posted December 3, 2018

When I was a kid, I dreamed of working at the rental desk of a video store.

The idea of unlimited access to movie popcorn and snacks, free rentals, and watching that ceiling-mounted TV all day enthralled me.

But of course, that's not a job that exists anymore. The advent of on-demand and streaming services destroyed Blockbuster video. There's one left; I believe it's in Oregon. The few mom-and-pop video rental stores that survived the Netflix boom subsist on the good will of their communities. Video Americain on Cold Spring Road in north Baltimore, my childhood rental store that was made famous by a scene in John Water's Serial Mom (1994), is now a Smoothie King.

We can lament the inevitable march of progress and the losses that come with it, or we can keep our eyes to the future. Major change usually means radical improvement, right? But what about when new technologies arise and traditions as American as apple pie are erased?

Can you imagine the medical field without doctors?

That's exactly what the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City is doing. The team there has programmed artificial intelligence (AI) to recognize pneumonia in chest X-rays. The team still sends the images to a real doctor. But the first consult is with a robotic mind.

Throughout modern medicine, there have been moves to increase AI's involvement within the community and at every step of the health-care process. Countries like Switzerland have been quick to adapt to medical AI. And that's particularly true when it comes to diagnosing patients and in precision surgeries. Dr. Jörg Goldhahn, deputy head of the Institute for Translational Medicine (ITM) at ETH Zurich, Switzerland, feels that robotic doctors may actually be superior caretakers to their human counterparts. This belief is due, in large part, to the flawless memory of AI.

Says Goldhahn:

The notion that today's physicians could approximate this knowledge by keeping abreast of current medical research while maintaining close contacts with their patients is an illusion not least because of the sheer volume of data.

Goldhahn also asserts that robotic doctors would be incapable of empathy and that this would actually create a better medical professional, one devoid of bias or potential emotional conflict.

But naturally, there are detractors. Dr. Vanessa Rampton of the McGill Institute for Health and Social Policy in Montreal, Canada, and Professor Giatgen Spinas at the University Hospital in Zurich, Switzerland, claim that this is a step in the wrong direction. Rampton and Spinas believe that the interpersonal relationship between doctor and patient is invaluable: "Feeling they've been heard by someone who understands the seriousness of the problem and whom they can trust can be crucial for patients."

And according to other detractors, patient advocate Michael Mittelman and his colleagues: "Patients need to be cared for by people, especially when we are ill and at our most vulnerable. A machine will never be able to show us true comfort."

The role of AI in the medical field is currently spotty. But we've still seen some major advances in how doctors are communicating with their patients. This includes the burgeoning success of Teladoc, Inc. (NYSE: TDOC). Teladoc is a service that allows patients to schedule appointments with their doctors over a Skype-like video chat.

And where will AI fit into this brave new world? Mittelman and his colleagues said it best. Robots may have cemented their place in the medical world, but there will always be a need for human doctors: "Ultimately, no one wants to be told he or she is dying by an entity that can have no understanding of what that means. We see AI as the servant rather than the director of our medical care."

Invest well,

Matt Harrison
Contributing Editor, Park Avenue Digest

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