The key challenges for today’s healthcare systems are economic: costs are rising everywhere. Introducing AI driven systems could be cheaper than hiring and training new staff.
AI systems are also universally available and can even monitor patients remotely. This is important because demand for doctors in much of the world is growing more quickly than supply.
Less biased, less unstable, still caring
The ability to form relationships with patients is often portrayed as the trump card in favour of human physicians, but this may also be their Achilles’ heel. Trust is important for patients’ perception of the quality of their care.
But the object of this trust need not be a human; machines and systems can be more trustworthy if they can be regarded as unbiased and without conflicts of interest.
Of course, AI systems may be subject to the biases of their designers, but this can be overcome by independent reviews and subsequent iterations.
To say that patients always require empathy from human doctors is to ignore important differences between patients: many, particularly younger, patients with minor complaints simply want an accurate diagnosis and treatment that works.
In other words: they may rate correct diagnosis higher than empathy or continuity of care. In some very personal situations the services of a robot could help patients avoid feeling shame.
Even patients who crave interaction, such as those with serious or terminal diagnoses, may find that their needs are better met by machines. Recent studies show that conversational agent systems have the potential to track conditions and suggest care
and can even guide humans through the end of life.
Doctors as we now know them will become obsolete eventually. In the meantime, we should expect stepwise introduction of AI technology in promising areas, such as image analysis or pattern recognition, followed by proof of concept and demonstration of added value for patients and society. This will lead to broader use of AI in more specialties and, sooner than we think, human doctors will merely assist AI systems. These systems will not be perfect, but they will be constantly perfecting themselves and will outperform human physicians in many ways.