Once upon a time, not so long ago, right here in the United States, doctors made house calls. Really.
A hundred years ago, it was not at all uncommon for a small-town general practitioner to know everyone’s names – having delivered them as babies and tracked their medical conditions throughout their lives.
“Before the Shot” by Norman Rockwell (1958)
As America grew up, towns became cities and people were on the move. Medical practices got crowded and, frankly, less personal. Finding a competent, yet caring, doctor became a challenge that was right up there in importance with locating a good car mechanic.
Doctors got busier, and sometimes people in a hurry or under stress make mistakes. Medical malpractice lawsuits rose as medical errors became the third leading cause of death in the US, as reported by US News.
But change is in the wind from a direction you might not have envisioned: artificial intelligence or AI. In the strictest sense, AI is a computer program, which is made up of numerous algorithms (series of instructions), that is designed to approximate human cognition in the analysis of complex medical data.
The goal of AI in healthcare is to approximate conclusions without direct human input. The primary aim of health-related AI applications is to analyze relationships between prevention or treatment techniques and patient outcomes.
Consequently, medical AI comes in all forms, most of which do not resemble a human doctor at all. Would you let a robotic arm, like the Veebot shown below, draw your blood sample?
The fact is that AI is revolutionizing modern healthcare because it can be far faster and much more accurate when collecting patient data, analyzing it, and producing recommendations. Improved patient treatment should reduce the number of medical malpractice lawsuits – which is supported by this CBS report that “fewer medical malpractice lawsuits succeed, but payouts are up.”
This does not mean that human doctors have become useless. Far from it. Once AI does its work, the flesh-and-blood physician may render a final judgment for the best course of action – or direct an AI-assisted surgical procedure.
Just consider all the things AI can do to save humans time and improve patient safety:
• An iPhone can detect cancer
• A smart watch can detect a stroke
• A standalone Android Wear smartwatch app can help you quit smoking
• An Apple Watch can predict high blood pressure and sleep apnea
Robotics Tomorrow confirms that “we are starting to see robot assistants for doctors, such as appointment booking, basic triage, test result analysis, prescription requests, decision support, referral requesting, and much more.”
Not only will doctors play a vital part in AI-assisted healthcare, but new health careers are in demand for medical technicians of all kinds, to operate new machines, from “micro-bots that remove plaque from arteries to personal assistant robots that have the ability to aid patients.”
These are indeed exciting times to be alive. And most of us will be alive longer, thanks to medical artificial intelligence.