Doctors and patients famously have had a particular understanding regarding their relationship. The doctor, the professional with several years of intense education programs and experience, is expected to improve the medical well-being of their patient to the best of their abilities. Whether this is a dentist cleaning teeth or a doctor operating on your heart, all doctors live to a code of ethics and responsibility to help their patients. Unfortunately, these dedicated and professional physicians suffer from the same issue: being human.

To err is human is often brought up to excuse small mishaps, yet it is all that can really be said whenever medical errors occur. Human error and bias are a prevalent issue in the medical realm to the extent that the third leading cause of death in the US are errors on the part of doctors. Up until recently, there had been no alternative to a doctor beyond controversial homeopathy or inaction by the patient; today we have the development of artificial intelligence to consider.

What is Artificial Intelligence?

Artificial Intelligence, or AI as you’re more likely to hear, is nothing more than a complicated string of code on a computer that can interpret the information it receives and create its own observations. It’s a program that can learn as it receives more information and has seemingly endless possible uses. The technology surrounding AI has been improving dramatically and has expanded in many fields including the medical field. Recently, there has been a push to experiment possible applications to diagnosing patients as AI can use the information gathered, different algorithms, and its own prior experience to determine a diagnosis.

What are the Benefits of AI

Perfection is often demanded yet and expected in nearly every profession with doctors being the prime example. However, mistakes are bound to occur, particularly with the stress of high expectations,  seemingly countless visits from patients a year, and such a heavy price to pay for failure. Most physicians put as much focus and energy as they can into their field and yet there are still countless malpractice suits every year.

Artificial Intelligence, on the other hand, handles no burdens of stress or bias in its decision process. According to an article in the New Zealand Medical Journal, AI was able to accurately analyze 340 MRIs of brains as either healthy or diseased. Two individual AIs, Watson and Isabel, outclassed Human doctors in diagnosing.

Currently, implementation of AI  has already begun to help in the medical field. Ranging from simple chatbots that the patient directly interacts with to help with diagnosis, to labwork with “Machine Vision” which can analyze data more efficiently than a doctor using traditional methods. More than likely, an average patient has already had AI involved with some of their screenings.

A key benefit to AI is that generally, they aren’t learning from limited information, they take enormous amounts of published information and can learn over a subject matter that could be learned by a doctor in a lifetime of studying. This allows The AI to collect the information and form algorithms that it compares to near limitless information and improve constantly and instantly for interpreting new information.

Lastly, AI doesn’t have the same faults as the average man or woman. No need for holidays, weekends, or sleep, AI might be “intelligent” in its own terms but it’s still nothing more than computer code. While they aren’t infallible, they don’t make simple mistakes or feel biased for their patients. In short, there is a benefit to being cold and calculating machines.

The Human Advantage

While Artificial Intelligence seems to be the way of the future, there are some things artificial intelligence can’t replace. Being just software, there will always have to be a doctor in order to take the information AI provides and utilize it to benefit the patient. In actuality, AI is still in its infancy and can cost between $100k-$300k for an AI that only completes a specific task. In many cases that means it can only diagnose one malady. Even with the expansion of cloud technology that can cut costs and allow thousands of doctors to use the same AI anywhere in the world, it will still take more effort than just letting a doctor do a simple check-up.

Doctors actually have the edge over AI in that they lack “gut-instinct” that people have. According to an MIT study, most doctors rely on the information they get from a patient as well as their intuition that an AI is unlikely to be able to replicate. The combination of years of experience, patient attitude, and social cues gave doctors an uncanny ability to order the right medical tests that AI wasn’t able to predict. In years “gut-instinct” may actually be programmable, but in the meantime, it’s something humans have over machines.

The most powerful advantage a doctor has over AI, however, is the human interaction and ability to empathize with patients. The complaints most people have about their doctor is regarding the human connection. It’s relatively simple and easy to have a better bedside manner and that is something only a doctor can provide.

Artificial intelligence has a ton of potential and serves as a tool for doctors and their patients, but doctors aren’t obsolete quite yet. The mere fact that many of these programs were created by doctors themselves show that even if AI disrupts the industry, there will be plenty of uses for doctors to continue with medicine. At the end of the day, neither apples or AI is going to keep doctors away.