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Will AI Make Doctors Obsolete?
Will AI Make Doctors Obsolete?
Increasing amounts of health data given to machines are "reading" and taking account of the rapidly expanding scientific literature.
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Transcript
As new treatments arrive, and health care costs come under more scrutiny, the question arises, "To what degree will artificial intelligence, make doctors obsolete?" This topic was recently explored in the British Medical Journal, or BMJ.

By learning, reasoning, and self-correction, artificial intelligence systems simulate human intelligence. This technology already demonstrates the potential to be more accurate than physicians at making diagnoses and performing surgical interventions. And experts say, "it has a nearly unlimited capacity for data processing and subsequent learning, at speeds 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.

Experts contend that, 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, simply because of the sheer volume of data.

It's also argued that machine learning is not subject to the same level of potential bias seen in human learning, which reflects cultural influences and links with particular institutions.

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." Trust is important to patients, but machines and systems can be more trustworthy than humans if they come to be regarded as both unbiased and without conflicts of interest.

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

The key challenges for today's healthcare systems are rising costs and an insufficient number of doctors. Introducing AI-driven systems could be cheaper than hiring and training new staff. They are also universally available and can even monitor patients remotely. If this all comes to fruition, doctors as we now know them may become obsolete, eventually.

But many experts maintain that machines will never replace human doctors entirely because the "relational 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 they say human doctors will remain because they are better at dealing with the patient as a "whole person."

They say, 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. 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.

Feeling they've been heard by someone who understands the seriousness of the problem and whom they can trust can also be crucial for patients.

Computers aren't able to care for patients in the sense of showing devotion or concern for the other as a person, because they are not people and do not care about anything. Sophisticated robots might show empathy as a matter of form, just as humans might behave nicely in social situations yet remain emotionally disengaged because they are only performing a social role.

Most importantly there will be no cure for some patients - care will be about helping them have the best quality of life possible with their condition and for the longest time. Here human doctors are irreplaceable. Robots cannot understand our concern with relating illness to the task of living a life.

Regulated and well implemented, machines that learn have the potential to bring huge benefit to patients, but few want to receive a terminal diagnosis from a robot.

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 provide "true comfort."

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