The pace at which healthcare today is moving is nothing short of dizzying. In less than a century, the advancements made in surgical techniques alone were astounding. But as of late, talk has surfaced about a new wave of advancements in the medical industry that has created anxiety for some. Ushered in by the wave of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the healthcare industry has seen an increased focus on artificial intelligence (AI) and other technological solutions. Some are claiming that AI won’t just act as a helpful resource to the physician in the future, but could instead be a replacement.

An esteemed voice in tech, Kai-Fu Lee, recently told CNBC that AI will be the biggest technological advancement the world has seen. More than that, he posited that AI would replace 50% of jobs in the next decade. Vinod Khosla, another Bay area investor, said that AI would replace 80% of doctors in the future. His reasoning? The medical field will ultimately be dominated by entrepreneurs, not medical professionals. I would like to address some of the recent comments about the future of doctors.

Hope for a Better Tomorrow or Fear Mongering?

First, we cannot overlook the benefit that AI can potentially have on the world of healthcare. As an example, an optical surgery robot recently passed clinical trials, outperforming its human counterparts while operating on retinal membranes. Impressive? Absolutely. Exciting? Without a doubt. But the talk of physician obsolescence doesn’t help the conversation. For one, it instills an unnecessary fear of AI. But more than that, such discussions could lead talented young students to forego their medical aspirations out of the fear of a dwindling job market. Will AI impact future physicians’ roles and practices? Absolutely. Will it replace them? No.

Today, machine learning is nowhere close enough to assume the role of a trained physician, and these sort of proclamations are not helpful to public expectations and aspirations of potential future doctors.

Don’t Forego Artificial Intelligence Out of Fear

Physicians, nurses, and other medical professionals complete a litany of tasks throughout the day. A recent study concluded the average doctor spends close to nine hours every week on administrative duties. Psychiatrists spend approximately 20.3% of their working hours completing paperwork, and family/general practitioners spend 17.3% of their working hours completing similar administrative tasks. These types of activities can be automated—and they should.

For instance, Machine-Learning can complete any number of administrative tasks a human physician can, but we are still a ways away from witnessing a robot perform the Heimlich maneuver, let alone possess the intuition to know when a patient is suffering from the symptoms that would warrant performing such a technique. Not only that, but physicians possess the ability to think laterally. And while machine-learning can be updated with information that skilled professionals have access to, it is incapable to date of possessing the ability to creatively think through a problem that doesn’t have a seemingly logical, step-by-step solution.

Ultimately it’s important that we don’t forego the potential positive benefits of AI out of fear or ignorance. Remember, it’s never been AI versus human or technology versus human; the combination should be synergistic. We should ensure we harness the significant benefits of technological advancements for the betterment of our society. The end goal is not the victory of one modality or the other, but rather a willingness to seek and employ synergistic solutions that improve patients’ outcomes.
A study on the treatment of metastatic breast cancer proves this point. When machine learning predictions were combined with physician input, the image classification and the tumor location score increased significantly. The human error rate also decreased by 85%, showing that the partnership was mutually beneficial for the doctor and the patient.