The tantalizing promise of AI – and its missteps – is more evident than ever, as OpenAI’s ChatGPT is making headlines for its ability to cheat. college exams or perform a impostor job interview. But, for anyone who feels inclined to dismiss the potential of AI, I urge caution.
Bill Gates has called recent advances in AI “every bit as important” as the rise of the internet – a statement that should catch the attention of innovators in every discipline. In the field of healthcare, our relationship with AI is mixed successes and setbacksespecially in applications for diagnostics.
To maximize our achievements and realize the potential of AI, we must make a distinction between “artificial intelligence” and “augmented intelligence” to deliver meaningful change in our healthcare system. The distinction between “artificial” and “augmented” may feel like nonsense to some, but medical device innovation requires precision in everything we do.
Artificial vs. Augmented
Artificial intelligence implies a replacement for human intelligence – a notion that ChatGPT fully embraces a chatbot that can answer simple questions or even write essays with a few inputs. In contrast, augmented intelligence works alongside humans to support their decision-making.
In robotic-assisted surgery, for example, the goal of augmented intelligence is not to replace the skills and expertise of surgeons, honed over years of experience and thousands of repetitions. Those skills and experiences can certainly be used by augmented intelligence to improve the standard of care in any provider facility, including community hospitals, large health systems, ambulatory surgery centers (ASCs) or labs. office based (OBL). AI platforms can provide real-time feedback during surgical procedures, drawing from a vast database of previous procedures. They rely on the surgeon’s skill and decision-making ability to create recommendations for procedural maneuvers and may even change best practices for how to complete certain procedures. There is nothing “artificial” about a procedure recommendation based on a maneuver from a real surgeon in a real operation.
Augmented intelligence is the right approach for improving health outcomes in surgical procedures because it reduces variability among hospitals, health systems, ASCs and OBLs. Any patient anywhere in the world can receive the highest standard of care with platforms that empower informed decision making.
Technology to protect our surgeons
Against the backdrop of a major physician shortage in the US, we must find ways to slow the retirement rates that have risen around the pandemic and attract young people to the medical field, and augmented intelligence can play a role.
Manual operations are physically and mentally demanding – often contributing to ailments such as orthopedic injuries that can force surgeons into early retirement. The physician population is also aging – more than 40% of active physicians will be 65 or older by 2030. Sitting in an ergonomic chair and equipped with insights to perform every operation to the best of their ability, surgeons can extend their careers using augmented intelligence platforms . The taxing nature of manual surgery can also severely limit the number of procedures a surgeon can complete in a day. Making procedures less demanding will help to close the gap between the number of patients who need operations and the number of physicians who can perform them.
Related to the hustle and bustle of Silicon Valley and big tech, a career in medicine can feel overwhelming. By incorporating augmented intelligence, machine learning and other innovative technologies in the medical field that we can make the profession more attractive to the younger generation. Finding ways to attract the digital-native generation to healthcare and retain the talent pipeline is critical to our success.
Artificial intelligence is not a one-size-fits-all solution and almost every industry will feel its impact. In healthcare, the most significant and disruptive changes will come from AI developed to augment our surgeons, not replace them.