AI is cool and all – but doctors and patients don't really need it

According to the American Medical Association at least

The American Medical Association does not believe that using AI is essential in healthcare and will benefit all patients, according to a new report.

It published its first policy recommendations on ‘augmented intelligence’ in time for its Annual Meeting in June.

“As technology continues to advance and evolve, we have a unique opportunity to ensure that augmented intelligence is used to benefit patients, physicians, and the broad health care community,” said Jesse Ehrenfeld, an AMA board member.

“Combining AI methods and systems with an irreplaceable human clinician can advance the delivery of care in a way that outperforms what either can do alone. But we must forthrightly address challenges in the design, evaluation and implementation as this technology is increasingly integrated into physicians’ delivery of care to patients.”

The report recognises that AI is promising and has many advantages. Research has shown that computers can identify skin cancer and diabetic retinopathy - a leading cause of blindness in diabetes - as well as professional doctors can. It might also help dentists design better dental crowns or help doctors predict a patient’s risk of heart attacks.

But the technology is very expensive to implement and requires upgrading infrastructure to run and it could take away spending from other essential areas in healthcare. In fact, the AMA said physicians can actually take care of most patients without the assistance of AI.

“AI should be funded as an enhancement of the primary care medical home 25 so that patients who really need AI can benefit from the technology and such that AI does not become a requirement that must be incorporated into the care of every patient,” according to the report.


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There are a whole host of technological problems besides accuracy and cost. A previous study found that medical AI systems are particularly vulnerable to attacks since neural networks are prone to being manipulated to lead to incorrect classifications and potentially false diagnoses by poisoning input images passed onto the machine.

It also introduces potential legal problems. AI is often thought of as a ‘black box’, it’s difficult to understand how a computer arrived at its decision exactly. If it makes incorrect diagnoses who’s to blame? And to what extent do doctors need to grasp AI in order to use the tools?

“To reap the benefits for patient care, physicians must have the skills to work comfortably with health care AI. Just as working effectively with [electronic health records] is now part of training for medical students and residents, educating physicians to work effectively with AI systems, or more narrowly, the AI algorithms that can inform clinical care decisions, will be critical to the future of AI in health care,” Ehrenfeld said. ®

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