A recent Goldman Sachs report determined that artificial intelligence (AI) may wipe out 300 million jobs. Jobs that require advanced education, like mine, are particularly vulnerable. This isn’t welcome news for those of us who have invested a lifetime mastering our crafts and must work for a living.
Until recently, the primary goal of medical students has been to master the science of medicine. Students spend thousands of hours learning anatomy, biochemistry, histology, pathology, pharmacology, physiology, and much more. That knowledge is essential for the effective practice of medicine.
However, AI can memorize and regurgitate facts faster and more accurately than any student. Even a lifetime of study can’t compete with AI’s gigabytes of memory and archives of algorithms. Artificial intelligence will win memory contests every time. Now that AI is here, medical students must focus more than ever on the art of medicine.
An expert weighs in
A magnificent tool
Manuj’s answer was reassuring. AI will perform the grunt work that consumes much of the current patient/physician encounter. Artificial intelligence will summarize medical records, codify comorbidities, quantify adherence, compare therapeutic options, highlight medication side effects, calculate drug dosages, estimate treatment risk-benefit ratios, and provide prognosis-all in the blink of an eye. Artificial intelligence can already accomplish all these tasks.
I can easily imagine AI performing delicate brain tumor surgery with robotic arms. To follow up, AI prescribes the latest combination of evidence-based chemotherapy and radiation at appropriate doses for the patient’s body mass index, liver and renal function. AI calculates the patient’s 5-year survival based on the tumor’s pathological grade, molecular genetics, and the patient’s overall health. To conclude, AI summarizes its work and prints out a detailed bill complete with ICD-10 codes. Neurosurgeons would still direct therapy, but expert AI assistants would do the heavy lifting.
Harnessed properly, AI could free up time for physicians to develop deeper relationships with their patients. Physicians could enjoy greater job satisfaction, and patients would benefit from improved outcomes.
Limitations of artificial intelligence
For all its wonder, AI suffers from limitations. For example, I recently followed instructions from my car’s navigation system (a rudimentary form of AI) for the shortest route to my destination. The AI worked fine, but recent construction had transformed the preferred road into a dead-end street. A missed software update on my GPS is one thing, but out-of-date information could be catastrophic during a neurosurgical procedure.
Further, AI cannot apply the art of medicine to an individual patient. Can AI parse a patient’s responses to separate fact from fiction? Can AI ask the right question in the right way at the right time? Can AI distinguish what patients want from what they really need? Can AI approach each patient in a culturally sensitive way? Can AI navigate a patient’s fear? Perhaps someday AI will accomplish all of these tasks but not today and probably never.
Physicians must form a “therapeutic alliance” with each patient to obtain optimal results. The key to such a relationship is trust. No matter how sophisticated, a silicon chip is less likely to inspire confidence than a warm handshake and eye contact with a fellow human being. A human physician has another attribute AI can probably never achieve: compassion.
As AI integrates into routine medical care, it may replace health care providers who rush patient encounters and rely only on diagnostic and therapeutic algorithms. After all, algorithms are AI’s specialty. However, those who care for each patient with compassion, insight, and respect will never need to look for another job. Artificial intelligence can’t compete with physicians who practice the art of medicine.
Andrew Wilner is a neurologist who can be reached at this self-titled site, Andrew Wilner, MD. He is the author of The Locum Life: A Physician’s Guide to Locum Tenens.