Where to Apply Artificial Intelligence in Health Care

Where to Apply Artificial Intelligence in Health Care

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By HANS DUVEFELT MD Dr. Hans Duvefelt, A Country Doctor Writes, AI

I have seen the light. I now, finally, see a clear role for artificial intelligence in health care. And, no, I don’t want it to replace me. I want it to complement me.

I want AI to take over the mandated, mundane tasks of what I call Metamedicine, so I can concentrate on the healing.

In primary care visits in the U.S., doctors and clinics are buried in government mandates. We have to screen for depression and alcohol use, document weight counseling for every overweight patient (the vast majority of Americans), make sure we probe about gender at birth and current gender identification, offer screening and/or immunizations for a host of diseases, and on and on and on. All this in 15 minutes most of the time.

Never mind reconciling medications (or at least double checking the work of medical assistants without pharmacology training), connecting with the patient, taking a history, doing an examination, arriving at a diagnosis, and formulating and explaining a patient-focused treatment plan.

Right now there are two choices for doctors: Take care of the patient and ignore the government mandates, or prioritize the Metamedicine and shortchange the patient. Unless every other patient in our schedule is a no-show, we can’t do both.

I know some technocrats hope to replace the cognitive work of doctors with AI. But at this point in time, AI is way too far out on the Autism Spectrum in terms of not being able to register and adapt to the nuances of patients’ word choices, intonation and body language, which are all essential considerations in the diagnostic process.

AI, which (now that I think of it) could just as well mean Autistic Intelligence, is instead perfectly suited for the nitpicking, mundane, already intrusive questioning that has come to belabor the clinical interview.

In many industries, machines do the boring, routine work so that skilled workers and professionals can do the interesting, creative and individualized work. Why shouldn’t it be that way in medicine, too?

But, let me be the one to talk with the patients first. After my AI Assistant is done with them, I’m sure every patient has had enough of our clinic and just wants to go home. But at least they’ll have their entire 15 minutes of my attention solidly focused on the medical problem they came to get help with.

Hans Duvefelt is a Swedish-born rural Family Physician in Maine. You can find his blog here

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1 Comment on "Where to Apply Artificial Intelligence in Health Care"


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William Palmer MD
Dec 14, 2018

Well written story if your plight. Thank you.

I guess no matter the health care system, no matter the payment system or structure within which we work, we are going to need something like AI to help us….simply because the science is advancing inexorably. Just think of all the new differential diagnoses every year [eg inherited metabolic diseases], and the new drugs and new chemo, antibiotic, small molecule and large molecule genetic therapies. Because we have finite brains, we are going to have to either 1. Have every patient seen by a group of experts or 2. Use Artificial Intelligence in some way to help us.
I can’t think of any other choices.