Knowledge, experience and outcomes remain hallmarks of top physicians. Great physicians are beginning to recognize that AI doesn’t replace learned medical masters; instead, it is a pattern recognition tool for cutting-edge minds to exploit. Digital health technologies increase diagnostic acumen (and psychological comfort) by comparing patients’ conditions alongside hundreds of thousands of case reports to reveal a broader range of clinical opinions and options.
Beyond enhanced predictive ability, AI will elevate gifted and early adapter medical practitioners to a heightened level of performance. While leading doctors may not always have the greatest bedside manners, they demonstrate consistently heightened clinical ability. AI must never be a medical replacement for learned minds and human connections – it augments their well-honed clinical skills. It will, as physician leader and author Eric Topol, MD, writes in Deep Medicine: How Artificial Intelligence Can Make Healthcare Human Again, empower health professionals to focus on those who need them the most – people who turn to the system for its healing potential:
“The promise of artificial intelligence in medicine is to provide composite, panoramic views of individuals’ medical data; to improve decision making; to avoid errors such as misdiagnosis and unnecessary procedures; to help in the ordering and interpretation of appropriate tests; and to recommend treatment.”
Change is Rarely Easy – In Medicine, Especially So
In reality, we are apprehensive about change. The medical system is historically slow to adapt. It pivots to the status quo when things appear to be humming along. But the United States medical system is expensively dysfunctional. This nation spends 20 percent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on healthcare. Yet, in the “Land of the Free,” the fee-for-service status quo has become a standard for skyrocketing costs, racial disparities, and a decline in life expectancy and quality of longevity. In medicine, we must fulfill our mission to be the “…Home of the Brave.”
The United States lags behind European and Asian countries that offer universal health coverage and preventive medical services. But there are many reasons why we continue to plow more money into this health system. Essentially, we lack the resolve to transform the health ecosystem into a value-based care model. We are timid about investing in technology training for health professionals and supporting predictive algorithms that track consumers across varied doctor visits, medication use and diagnostic exams. We quibble state-to-state about hybrid in-person or telemedicine patient engagement. In reality, we should use people’s time and technology wisely to address unique health needs.
We tend to make simple solutions in health more challenging—for example, intervening around non-communicable diseases. The COVID-19 pandemic revealed health system fragility and the pressing need to reach people with a history of heart disease and diabetes and weight management needs. These people needed greater interventional attention to prevent the clinical domino effect of the pandemic. Yet, this country saw a disproportionate number of COVID-related preexisting condition-related deaths compared to other countries that use electronic medical records to engage citizens. AI could help figure out who needs what and when quickly.
[Here is the new interview with the Medika Editor in Chief Gil Bashe, and Tom Lawry, author of the business bestseller Hacking Healthcare hosted by Microsoft Research. Healthcare data can reveal insights to improve patient care, empower health team collaboration, and enhance provider experiences. However, much of the information in healthcare systems is siloed. To improve healthcare, organizations must unlock the power of information by using technology to connect it.]
Is “Intelligence” Ever Artificial?
Is “AI” threatening and misunderstood? Is the term “artificial intelligence” a misrepresentation of the idea that people are ingenious and will collaborate to find a “workaround when threatened?” Forget “artificial!” What happens if we realize that artificial intelligence will not transform people’s health and the system – it’s the desire to collaborate and generate shared – composite – wisdom. We can call upon experience and intelligence to “augment” what we know and apply!
My industry colleague John Nosta, a noted global innovation theorist, often says, “Culture crushes innovation.” Here, we must not point the finger of blame for this dysfunctional situation at physicians, nurses and allied health professionals on the hospital floor. Healers want to heal just as much as those who need their help. The shared problem is not desire but time and technology! Time to input data into EMRs and learn technologies that can sort through and highlight information and accelerate clinical decision-making.
Reduce Health Professional Burn-Out Rates
Hospital staff is overstretched everywhere, which impacts collaboration and care coordination. We are awash with information. In response to a caregiver question, how often does a floor nurse say: “I don’t have time to read the My Chart (EHR) file.” AI embedded into the EHR system can shoulder some of these time challenges. Intelligent technologies will read EHRs rapidly and offer up patient-care summaries and clinical possibilities.
While the “system” is resistant to significant change and science has become politicized and misunderstood, we must rally to the objective of saving lives and reducing costs. Can information technologies and “intelligent health systems” do what people in power have not achieved? Are we able to educate consumers about being partners in data security? Can information bring people – professionals and consumers – together and transform this country’s post-WWII build health system?
Care professionals work within a system that revolves around economics – how the institution is paid and how it must cover costs. What is to be done if the system cannot support the health professional’s efforts or make the best use of their abilities, energy and dedication? What will happen as more and more health professionals ghost the provider system that they feel no longer addresses their emotional and economic needs? These are questions that must be addressed sooner than we think!
Perhaps the biggest question is whether we can wait to resolve all these questions while health costs soar and people risk dying from treatable illnesses. We should already know that answer!
Prepare for the Journey Ahead
Tom Lawry, National Director of AI for Health and & Life Science at Microsoft, offers a critical – system-saving – prescription in his newest (must-read) book Hacking Healthcare. Lawry maps out what will be needed from policymakers, employee transformation experts, provider system executives and health payers and professionals – from a new cultural mindset to organizational training to economic considerations to adapt.
Lawry does not say the journey is straightforward. Instead, it is unavoidable.
“AI and the Intelligent Health Revolution allow us to create a healthier world. To be a place where human abilities are amplified. It’s not that this change will happen overnight or necessarily be linear in progress. But it is happening….”