AI for the M.D

Peter Szolovits in Science:

In 1970 in The New England Journal of Medicine, William Schwartz predicted that by the year 2000, much of the intellectual function of medicine could be either taken over or at least substantially augmented by “expert systems”—a branch of artificial intelligence (AI). Schwartz hoped that the medical school curriculum would be “redirected toward the social and psychologic aspects of health care” and that medical schools would attract applicants interested in “behavioral and social sciences and … the information sciences and their application to medicine.” But Schwartz’s dream of smart medical technologies, for the most part, remains just that. Eric Topol, however, is optimistic about the future of health care. In Deep Medicine, he anticipates that new machine learning technologies will improve the precision and accuracy of disease diagnosis, thus providing a better way to identify the best therapies. Like Schwartz, he hopes that the time freed up by these approaches will be devoted to reviving humane medical practices.

…Last, Topol turns to his vision of how AI can provide a virtual medical assistant to clinicians and how these technologies can lead to the resurgence of the empathy-based care that Topol—and many others—miss in current health care. “AI can help achieve the gift of time with patients,” and that extra time can develop empathy, which “is not something machines can truly simulate.” The great contribution of this book is that Topol synthesizes the fragmentary views that we who work in this field gain from day-to-day reading into a cohesive vision of a future in which medical care is about human care. Alas, achieving that depends on much more than improved technological support for clinical medicine. Hopefully, the economic and administrative forces that have done much to frustrate other recent visionaries will not derail this new plan.

More here.