Viewpoint: AI has one glaring weakness in health care: There’s no human touch

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Image: Philips

It might be that, as physicians who work in a public health care system that relies on fax machines, carbon copies, and actual rubber stamps, a system run by AI seems like science fiction. But the prospect of a purely technological health care system also irks us and strikes us as undesirable.

We aren’t alone in feeling this way. According to a recent Harvard Business Review report, “patients believe that their medical needs are unique and cannot be adequately addressed by algorithms.”

So is an AI-driven health care future one that patients will want and accept?

There is no question that machine-learning algorithms are increasingly rapid and accurate in analyzing medical data. Diagnostic medical specialties like radiology, which deal more with the interpretation of data than with direct patient interactions, are the first to see artificial intelligence integrated into their practice.

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In the Harvard Business Review report, people preferred receiving health advice from a human, even when a computer was more accurate. This makes intuitive (and self-serving) sense to us as clinicians. Seeking care is built around receiving the undivided attention of real human beings, flawed as they may be. Patients, it seems, see doctors’ humanity less as a bug and more as a feature.

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