AI In Health Care Is Not About Replacing Humans

This article by Ambra Health CEO, Morris Panner, originally appeared in Forbes on May 10, 2019. 


When a disruptive technology makes its presence felt in a discrete domain like health care, it’s bound to attract attention. The impact of artificial intelligence (AI) and its application through machine learning (ML) algorithms is already evident in health care. Funding for companies that provide AI-based health care solutions has especially witnessed a significant rise, surpassing $400 million in 2017 and breaking investment records. AI and machine learning are set to expand, and health care is poised to witness an unprecedented explosion of AI use cases.

An Undisputed Game Changer

AI has become the undisputed technology game-changer of this generation, coming close on the heels of third-platform technologies (cloud, mobile and social) and creating meaningful use cases — namely, being able to make sense of unprecedented volumes of data to expedite decision making. This is why a wide range of health care solution providers – including medical device makers and patient diagnostic imagery providers (CAT scans and MRIs) — are embracing AI and machine learning to deliver data-driven results and guidance.

As AI trends become more entrenched in health care, the scenario is giving rise to a highly ubiquitous discussion on AI. Can it replace medical experts or doctors, especially physicians and radiologists? Other industries that began harnessing AI have also discussed this view. But health care is different. While AI can address challenges, such as analyzing the many shades of gray in medical images to arrive at a diagnosis with pinpoint accuracy, what AI cannot replace is human intuition, empathy, and judgment.

Before we deliberate further in this direction, let’s start with an argument in favor of AI capabilities, so as to leave no doubt for bias or prejudice. AI has certainly enabled significant transformation in various segments of health care and clinical efforts.  Among them are:

• Wellness solutions offered by AI-based internet of things (IoT) devices and wearables benefit consumers and health care professionals alike, as they help promote a healthier routine and enable proactive management of a healthy lifestyle.

Use of AI is providing great help in faster review and analysis of mammograms and similar test cases, ensuring much higher precision than ever before, giving caregivers the ability to better monitor and detect potentially life-threatening symptoms sooner and during curable stages.

• Ambitious AI initiatives such as Watson of IBM and DeepMind of Google, a customer, and partner of ours, are working in partnership with health care organizations and clinicians to unlock critical answers from vast amounts of patient data and health care diagnosis records.

These examples provide sufficient evidence to understand that AI and machine learning systems are the results of evolved human thinking. Although it could be said that AI aims to mimic the human brain, when it comes to health care, human intuition and judgment cannot find a substitute. As much as people might enjoy reading how technology is making significant inroads in health care, the element of trust in patient advocacy clearly leans in favor of interpersonal relationships. Add to this the findings of a recent MIT study that suggests “human doctors provide a dimension that, as yet, artificial intelligence does not.” Researchers in this study took into account unique approaches and the expertise of doctors monitoring intensive-care-unit (ICU) patients.

There’s something uniquely empathetic about a health care provider’s experience and their years of medical training and practice. They can assess patient conditions beyond simply tallying a list of given symptoms. The study concludes that “gut feelings” and subjectivity shared by experienced doctors may tap into a domain knowledge beyond where AI or machine learning can reach. In fact, the theory of a brain-gut connection posits that the gut is the seat of an auxiliary second brain known as the “enteric nervous system,” according to an essay from Johns Hopkins, a customer of ours. Beyond data, there is the subtle dimension of human thinking and judgment that can’t be replicated.

Taking A Pragmatic View

Even as AI continues augmenting existing capabilities in patient care, clinical analysis, diagnosis and more, it’s unlikely to fully replace human intervention. The health care value chain is undergoing a paradigm shift, evolving from a labor-driven one to a technology-enabled one. Hence, a more practical discussion could examine how AI can be harnessed to complement human expertise — so that experts such as physicians and radiologists can expedite decision making that bears directly on positive patient outcomes. By deploying AI, experts can leverage intelligent automation and computing to reach the right conclusion faster.

There is no denying the capabilities made available by AI and machine learning hold promise in making patient care more efficient, but a human touch still matters. Let’s not judge AI’s value by quoting metrics but rather by understanding the social building blocks that develop when health care is delivered humanely.

Ask yourself a simple question. Can AI-driven robots replace a reassuring bedside manner, a warm embrace or a smiling face?

The very idea of being treated by a machine can be genuinely disturbing and stressful. Health care is not exclusively a matter of tech and science. Even if AI-enabled software can determine an appropriate diagnosis or treatment option, we still want to confide with our physicians and seek their counsel.

Morris Panner HIMSS

About Morris Panner

As CEO of Ambra, Morris Panner leads the company on its mission of delivering better care through better technology. Morris is an active voice in the cloud and enterprise software arena, focused on the services and healthcare verticals. He is a frequent contributor to business, healthcare, and technology publications. Before Ambra, Morris built and sold an industry-leading business-process software company, OpenAir, to NetSuite (NYSE:N). He once served as the US Embassy Resident Legal Advisor in Bogota, Colombia; and his first job ever was as a janitor at his old high school while on summer break from college. Both of these very different experiences taught him valuable lessons about the human condition, and make him cherish his time with family that much more. Morris has a BA from Yale University and a JD from Harvard University.

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