Could machines using artificial intelligence make doctors obsolete?

Nov. 12, 2018

Artificial intelligence systems simulate human intelligence by learning, reasoning, and self-correction. This technology has the potential to be more accurate than doctors at making diagnoses and performing surgical interventions, says Jörg Goldhahn, MD, MAS, deputy head of the Institute for Translational Medicine at ETH Zurich, Switzerland.

It has a “near unlimited capacity” for data processing and subsequent learning and can do this at a speed that humans cannot match.

Increasing amounts of health data, from apps, personal monitoring devices, electronic medical records, and social media platforms are being brought together to give machines as much information as possible about people and their diseases. At the same time machines are “reading” and taking account of the rapidly expanding scientific literature.

Machine learning is not subject to the same level of potential bias seen in human learning that reflects cultural influences and links with particular institutions, for example.

While the ability to form relationships with patients is often presented as an argument in favor of human doctors, this may also be their “Achilles heel,” Goldhahn points out. Trust is important to patients, but machines and systems can be more trustworthy than humans if they can be regarded as unbiased and without conflicts of interest.

Furthermore, some patients, particularly younger ones and those with minor conditions, may rate correct diagnosis higher than empathy or continuity of care, he says. “In some very personal situations the services of a robot could help patients avoid feeling shame.

The key challenges for today’s healthcare systems are rising costs and insufficient numbers of doctors. “Introducing AI-driven systems could be cheaper than hiring and training new staff, Goldhahn says. “They are also universally available and can even monitor patients remotely. “Doctors as we now know them will become obsolete eventually.”

But Vanessa Rampton at the McGill Institute for Health and Social Policy in Montréal, Canada and Professor Giatgen Spinas at University Hospital in Zürich, Switzerland, maintain that machines will never replace doctors entirely because the interrelational quality of the doctor-patient relationship is vital and cannot be replicated.

They agree that machines will increasingly be able to perform tasks that human doctors do today, such as diagnosis and treatment, but say doctors will remain because they are better at dealing with the patient as a whole person.

Doctors can relate to the patient as a fellow human being and can gain holistic knowledge of their illness as it relates to the patient’s life, they say.

A doctor-patient relationship where the doctor thinks laterally and takes into account an individual patient’s preferences, values and social circumstances is important for healing, particularly for complex conditions, when there are symptoms with no obvious cause, and if there is a high risk of adverse effects.

Science Daily has the full story

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