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How will automation change medicine? Kerri Vincenti weighs in:


The Future of Medicine

“Change is the only constant in life.”  ~ Heraclitus

With the recent shift in political power, one topic that has come to the forefront of attention in the media is health care. It’s understandable that medicine is a political target as the downstream effects of legislation are something that almost all people care about (because of how they are affected by it, either directly or indirectly) and few people truly understand (because of the multiple layers of complexity that make up the sector). 

There are plenty of people who choose to focus on what individual people will do to affect the field in the next short four years. But today, I’d like to focus on another factor affecting health care that has the potential to change the field dramatically in the many years to come: the role of automation. 

Automation as it refers to medicine relates to robotic devices, robots that mimic humans and algorithms carried out by artificial intelligence. Some fields, such as surgery, embraced the benefits of automation earlier, using robotically assisted procedures that allow for less invasive interventions and the ability to work semi-remotely from the operative field, limiting risks for contamination. Other subspecialties with less patient interaction that rely more heavily on pattern recognition, such as my specialty (radiology), may be more skeptical about how the use of automation will impact the need for human input. 

Whether you embrace it or fear it, the fact is that automation is already being incorporated into everyday practice and has already changed the landscape for clinicians with respect to treating patients. Looking to the future, the role of robots and computer-aided systems will not necessarily change whether or not we are needed but how we use our time and talents. The benefits of automated systems relate to the fact that the inputs are potentially numerous and verified, allowing them to identify discrepancies or similarities with an individual patient’s presentation. But we must not forget that we as physicians are the keepers of those inputs – we have previously identified the breadth of diseases and the variety of ways they can present. So our so-called “artificial intelligence” is only as good as we help it to be. Even so, there are always outliers, or as we refer to it in medicine – the patients who don’t read the book – which may challenge the system and thus require a higher (i.e. human) level of adaptation. 

Automation isn’t going away but it will certainly take time to mold and refine its role in making us faster, more efficient and (hopefully) more accurate clinicians. There is definitely some uncertainty about what the future will bring; I won’t pretend to know how it will affect those of us who practice medicine.  I will, however, try to stay positive and embrace the changes that are on the horizon with the hope that they will allow me to help and reach more people. That is, after all, why I became a doctor. 


American Resident Project fellows receive compensation from Anthem for sharing their perspectives on this blog. Fellows views are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Anthem, Inc.