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Letting AI Physicians Into the Guild

BY KIM BELLARD

Let’s be honest: we’re going to have AI physicians.  

Now, that prediction comes with a few caveats. It’s not going to be this year, and maybe not even in this decade. We may not call them “physicians,” but, rather, may think of them as a new category entirely. AI will almost certainly first follow its current path of become assistive technology, for human clinicians and even patients.  We’re going to continue to struggle to fit them into existing regulatory boxes, like clinical decision support software or medical devices, until those boxes prove to be the wrong shape and size for how AI capabilities develop.

But, even given all that, we are going to end up with AI physicians.  They’re going to be capable of listening to patients’ symptoms, of evaluating patient history and clinical indicators, and of both determining likely diagnosis and suggested treatments.  With their robot underlings, or other smart devices, they’ll even be capable of performing many/most of those treatments. 

We’re going to wonder how we ever got along without them. 

Many people claim to not be ready for this. The Pew Research Center recently found that 60% of Americans would be uncomfortable if their physician even relied on AI for their care, and were  more worried that health care professionals would adopt AI technologies too fast rather than too slow.  

Still, though, two-thirds of the respondents already admit that they’d want AI to be used in their skin cancer screening, and one has to believe that as more people understand the kinds of things AI is already assisting with, much less the things it will soon help with, the more open they’ll be.    

People claim to value the patient-physician relationship, but what we really want is to be healthy.  AI will be able to help us with that.

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