The Future Of Robot Physicians: Is Artificial Intelligence Poised to Take Over Medicine?

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By 2030, robots will likely replace 800 million workers. Will physicians make the cut?
By 2030, robots will likely replace 800 million workers. Will physicians make the cut?

By 2030, robots will likely replace 800 million workers.1 Will physicians make the cut?

In an article published in BMJ, physicians on each side of the issue go head to head, debating the question of whether artificial intelligence (AI) will one day make physicians obsolete.2

On one hand, there are already machines that have surpassed physicians' abilities with certain tasks. However, are those machines able to match the importance of the physician-patient relationship?

“Already this technology shows the potential to be more accurate than physicians at making diagnoses in specialties such as radiology, dermatology, and intensive care,” said Jörg Goldhahn, MD, MAS, deputy head at the Institute for Translational Medicine in Zurich.

Dr Goldhahn believes that, eventually, physicians will assist robots working with patients. Physicians are simply not able to retain as much information as AI systems can.

When it comes to the question of whether a robot could replace the human connection in the doctor's office, Dr Goldhahn thinks machines might actually be at an advantage.

“Trust is important for patients' perception of the quality of their care. But the object of this trust need not be a human,” said Dr Goldhahn. “Machines and systems can be more trustworthy if they can be regarded as unbiased and without conflicts of interest. In some very personal situations, the services of a robot could help patients avoid feeling shame.”

However, those on the other side of the issue — Vanessa Rampton, PhD, Branco Weiss fellow at the McGill Institute for Health and Social Policy, and Giatgen Spinas, MD, emeritus professor at the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Clinical Nutrition at University Hospital in Zurich, are confident that the world will always need human physicians.

“Physicians will remain better at dealing with the patient as a whole person, which involves knowledge of social relationships and normativity,” they wrote. “Humans…can relate to the patient as a fellow person and can gain holistic knowledge of the patient's illness as related to his or her life.”

They go on to explain that health is more than curing an illness. Health is more complex and includes the individual experience when communicating with a doctor.

“Robots cannot understand our concern with relating illness to the task of living a life, which is related to the human context and subjective factors of disease,” they added.

Regardless of your viewpoint, there's no denying that AI systems are not going away any time soon.

References

  1. Connley C. Robots may replace 800 million workers by 2030. These skills will keep you employed. CNBC. https://www.cnbc.com/2017/11/30/robots-may-replace-up-to-800-million-workers-by-2030.html. November 30, 2017. Accessed November 26, 2018.
  2. Goldhahn J, Rampton V, Spinas GA. Could artificial intelligence make doctors obsolete?BMJ. 2018;363:k4563.
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