Deep Medicine: How Artificial Intelligence Can Make Health Care Human Again
In his new book, Deep Medicine, Eric Topol – cardiologist, geneticist, digital medicine researcher – claims that artificial intelligence can put the humanity back into medicine. By freeing physicians from rote tasks, such as taking notes and performing medical scans, AI creates space for the real healing that occurs between a doctor who listens and a patient who needs to be heard. The counterintuitive recognition that technology can create space for compassion in the clinical setting could mean fewer burned-out doctors, more empowered patients, cost savings, and an entirely new way to approach medicine.
The average time a doctor spends with their patients is in the single digits, says medical expert and author Eric Topol. Topol contends this is symptomatic of a larger breakdown in health, one that’s pushing doctors further away from the patients they’re treating. He describes this as “shallow” medicine:
It may seem counterintuitive, but Eric Topol says one way to make health care more human is to embrace AI technologies in new ways. He points to one subfield of AI in particular, called deep learning, that is already changing the nature of health care.
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Deep learning, although still in its infancy, has shown incredible promise to deliver more reliable diagnoses at a fraction of the time. Topol says that if doctors can spend less time diagnosing patients, yet get even more accurate test results, more energy can be spent working directly with patients on treatment. That, for Topol, is how to transition from shallow to deep medicine.
The dearth of mental health professionals is deeply problematic, says Eric Topol, and deep learning could help offset the need for more. But mental health is also an area where deep learning has potential to aid treatment, not just diagnosis. Eric Topol describes how:
Deep learning’s potential within health care is seductive, to say the least. Are we getting ahead of ourselves, and what are the dangers if we are? Eric Topol fears that health care is reaching such a point of desperation that we’re not left with many other choices. Topol’s biggest fear, though, is what happens to patients if AI technologies are used to exacerbate problems they were designed to fix.
This quote has been lightly edited for clarity
Eric Topol: What will happen, if we don’t stand up for patients, is that administrators who have nothing to do with patient care...will make things worse. They will make the squeeze continue, and we will see further attrition. This type of opportunity will not present itself for generations, if not ever. So I do agree that overall there is a hype around technology, but we have dehumanized health care. We have gutted the ‘health’ in health care. This is our only shot to get it back that I know of.
Topol insists that as AI grows in sophistication, it’s the job of humans to grow more humane. There’s no way around the fact that humans will be technically outsmarted by machines in the near future, so the best thing we can bring to health care is those traits (like empathy and concern) that are uniquely human.