Andrew is a freelance technology journalist, marketer, & dog parent.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) has rapidly gone from something we only see in sci-fi movies to a technology we interact with every day. From making product recommendations to finishing your sentences, AI is everywhere.
But will AI replace doctors in a hospital?
If you’re freaking out about being cut open by a robot doctor, the good news is that we’re not quite there (just) yet. But we’re not that far off either, so (like it or not) you better get ready for it.
In some cases, an AI diagnosis is better than doctors. In fact, computers have been outperforming doctors in disease diagnoses and cancer screening for years. So it makes sense to start leveraging smart algorithms in the diagnostic process.
If we take HealthTap’s, Dr. A.I., for example, it helps get the diagnostic ball rolling right in the comfort of your home.
Developed to work with Amazon’s Alexa, Dr. A.I. is programmed to have empathetic conversations about your overall health, symptoms, and provide highly personalized medical explanations. It will also recommend an appropriate (human) doctor to set up a consultation.
Obviously, it’s not a viable substitute for a trained medical professional, but it can be instrumental in expediting the diagnostic process. This is because the app is designed to analyze data from a wide variety of sources, some that your own doctor may not even know about.
While Dr. A.I. is far from perfect, its deep learning capabilities are making the technology better every day. So the false positives that potential patients might get today can be a distant memory in a few years.
There are also other smart chatbots that are designed to assist people. Like Dr. A.I., these AI-powered chatbots can support diagnostic initiatives, book appointments with specialists (in the area), and ensure patient medication adherence:
The short answer is “not exactly.”
As technology gets better and healthcare institutions make better use of the Internet of Things (IoT), you can expect to see more doctors using AI regularly to accelerate diagnosis and enhance the level of care.
AI will change the face of traditional medicine and improve outcomes dramatically. If we take Google’s DeepMind, for example, it optimizes the doctor’s diagnostic capabilities and even helps predict conditions two days before any symptoms present themselves.
In fact, Google’s smart algorithm (which was developed using 42,000 patient scans), outperformed six radiologists to determine if patients had lung cancer. It detected 5% more cancers than its human counterparts and reduced false positives by 11%.
While that might seem like a small percentage, this is fantastic news for a field that’s plagued by false positives. For example, according to a study in JAMA Internal Medicine, 2,100 patients had a false-positive rate of 97.5%.
In another study conducted at Stanford University, smart algorithms were developed to diagnose skin cancer by using a database with almost 130,000 images of skin diseases. In the diagnostic tests that followed, the results were virtually identical to that of 21 dermatologists.
This is revolutionary for the field as it creates almost superhuman medical practitioners. When you merge human experience, knowledge from deep data, and mechanical precision, you can deliver enhanced patient experiences.
So does this mean that we’ll see AI replacing surgeons in a couple of years? No!
While AI won’t replace medical professionals, these accurate predictions could also lead to preventative medicine.
So it’s never going to be a case of AI vs. doctors. Instead, smart algorithms will improve their chances of making an accurate diagnosis.
For example, doctors and researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, recently shared their findings on the Lancet on the ability of AI to quickly detect atrial fibrillation. This life-threatening heart condition is notorious for being difficult to diagnose. While the symptoms were too intermittent or imperceptible for humans, AI was able to identify it.
In similar studies conducted in China, on average, the algorithm performed better than junior doctors.
When will robots replace doctors? Probably not in our lifetime.
There are many reasons why robots can't replace doctors,and the same goes for smart algorithms. However, the main reason it won’t happen is that it can’t be trusted completely. AI works with data to make a diagnosis, and data can always come with some limitations.
For example, AI is often trained on ethnically homogenous datasets. So when algorithms are trained and validated on Caucasian populations with the typical exclusion of minorities, it can be a challenge to make an accurate diagnosis when the patient is an ethnic minority.
While doctors themselves might have their apprehensions and complaints about these new technologies, AI in healthcare is here to stay.
AI will help accelerate the development of new medicines and treatments, ensure medication adherence, make doctors more efficient, and deliver enhanced patient experiences.
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