May 23, 2011

HuffPo: Will Artificial Intelligence Replace Your Family Doctor?

Sounds like Helene Pavlov, MD, is concerned for her job: From her Huffington Post article, "Will Artificial Intelligence Replace Your Family Doctor?":
How concerned or thrilled should I be that the intelligence designated to my future health care decisions will be potentially limited or artificial?

What does the practice of medicine mean? What makes a "good doctor?" What is it you want in your physician? For me, I want him/her to listen to my complaints/concerns. Not all patients know what symptoms to prioritize or what signs and symptoms might be significant or related. Personally, I need a physician to ask appropriate and sometimes probing questions. For instance, a complaint of being tired and unable to sleep should prompt questions such as are you going to the bathroom all the time? This additional information might mean the difference between getting a B12 shot or being evaluated and treated for diabetes or a prostate condition.

In the past, a good physician knew his/her patients. He/she was there at your birth and then at the birth of your children -- the Marcus Welby, M.D. or Dr. Kildare who did it all. As medicine and science and technology evolved, the medical specialist was born. That was actually necessary given the accelerated influx of information and research discoveries. To know all areas of medicine thoroughly is virtually impossible. The problem with the specialist scenario, however, is making sure you are going to the "right" one. It is more than a matter of competence. Specialists tend to be very focused and may "listen" only to those symptoms/signs relative to their specialty and assume some other specialist is dealing with "everything else." In most instances, triage from an astute general internist or primary physician or other health care provider is required.
A couple of quick comments:
  1. It's more likely than not that future doctors will use AI expert systems to assist in their diagnoses and not replace them altogether
  2. The qualitative way in which a doctor and a Watson-like system will make their diagnoses are one in the same. There's nothing inherently special about human data processing and decision making relative to what a future medical expert system will do.

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