Why most doctors will soon become obsolete
It’s no secret that artificial intelligence (AI) is rapidly taking over jobs that have been done by humans for centuries. In this article I argue that a similar fate is waiting for (most) doctors. You may be asking why I’m writing about this topic in a blog on depression. The main motivation for writing for this blog is my disappointment with the way the medical establishment treats depression and wanting to share my experience in using alternative methods. Therefore it is important to highlight the fundamental shortcomings in today’s medicine. Please note that even though the language of this article may appear terse, it is not meant to be hateful.
Before we start let me tell which doctors are the most difficult to replace with computers. Those are doctors such as researchers, surgeons, (ortho)-dentists, ER personnel, etc.
Because doctors don’t use their intelligence enough
This is the primary reason and the harshest one to talk about. If you think about it you see that most of your interactions with most doctors go like this. You tell the doctor you have a problem and he or she either prescribes a medicine right away or orders some labs and then orders medicine. Frankly that does not involve much intelligence.
If you go to a doctor and tell them you have pain, they prescribe pain killers.
If you are depressed they prescribe antidepressants.
If you have anxiety they prescribe you anxyolitics and so on and so forth.
Frankly that’s not much more intelligent than a vending machine.
It can also happen that you go to a doctor, they order a blood work, they look at it and tell you “I don’t see anything wrong!” even if you may be suffering. That’s as if a blood work can reveal all about your health. Looking at lab results and making sure they are within the normal range is something that a 10 year old can do. Harsh but true. You may be thinking “But doesn’t a doctor physically examine you?” True but a nurse can do that too, and enter the results into the computer.
Nowadays I see doctors use computer software for doing differential diagnosis. However a nurse can easily do the same thing i.e. interview the patient and enter the results into the computer. You really don’t need to spend several years in medical school to do something like that. Rest assured, soon software will be able to interview patients itself, even accompanied with human appearance. Just look at this Chinese virtual news broadcaster.
I once read about a woman who went to doctor because her hands and feet were feeling numb. (I unfortunately can’t find the link anymore.) Her doctor simply told her that “This is all in your mind” and prescribed her an antidepressant. But the patient went to see other doctors and finally it turned out that the multivitamin she was taking contained too much B6 which can cause neurotoxicity. In a sane world the original doctor would be charged with medical negligence.
When I was a student a psychiatrist who was apparently an expert in bipolar disorder thought my inability to sleep was a sign of bipolar disorder. That was even though I had never had the “high” that bipolar people get periodically. The medicines he prescribed made me feel bad and took weeks to get out of my system. I’d like to hear your personal stories in the comments section.
The root cause of this problem is that modern medicine targets the symptoms instead of the root cause of a disorder. Even some doctors themselves admit this. For example here is a quote from Dr J. Axe:
Modern medicine focuses on treating symptoms, not addressing the root cause of a health issue, which in many cases is inflammation.
Because computers can memorize medical knowledge much better than humans
Let’s face it, medicine, other than surgery, dentistry, etc consists mostly of committing information to memory and in this respect it is not that different from, say, history. The medical literature is huge. In addition to all the textbooks there are currently more than 29 million articles on PubMed. A computer can do a much better job at storing and recalling the whole medical literature than any human can possibly do. Not just that, AI can study newly published medical research in no time. Look what IBM’s Watson supercomputer can do at the game of jeopardy by having studied Wikipedia articles.
A symptom such as dry mouth or insomnia can have tens of different possible causes and it is not easy for any human to keep all of the in memory. Your doctor may not be able to guess that the cause of your insomnia is you taking your fish oil in the evening. Nowadays there are also all sorts of supplements available over the counter whose side effects many doctors do not know. Hell, a lot of doctors don’t even believe in supplements.
Because computers can track your health much better
My endocrinologist, apart from my dentist, is the only doctor I see regularly. Each time he has to go through my old labs to compare my new results to the old ones….and it takes him time. Computers on the other hand can recall the totality of your labs in no time, and not just that, they can plot them, monitor your progress, etc. Additionally computers can record your vital signs that you measure regularly such as blood pressure or blood sugar level.
It gets really exciting when machine learning is added to the mix. If you record your lifestyle choices such as what you eat, what medicines and supplements you take, and how much and how you exercise then computer can confer which practices improve your health and which ones worsen it.
Because doctors are overpriced
It’s no secret that healthcare is overpriced in the US. I once paid $40 to a specialist doctor for him to tell me my labs were alright! On another occasion I paid an orthodontist about $900 because my braces had to be removed abruptly. A process that took about 40 minutes. It is not simple to automate the job of an orthodontist or surgeon but it is very simple for the machine to inform you how your lab results are.
In summary you can expect the same thing that Uber and Amazon did to taxi drivers and retailers, artificial intelligence will do to doctors and in the process make healthcare more efficient and affordable. The medical sector has more wealth and power, it employs a lot of people and is heavily regulated. Therefore, compared to taxi drivers or retailers, it will be more difficult for the Tech industry to beat it but it will happen.
Last but not least, even with efficient AI doctors, the bulk of the task of taking care of your health, and mental health in particular, lies on you not the doctors and this is a main theme of this blog.