Will Artificial Intelligence Replace My Doctor?

There is little doubt that artificial intelligence (AI) is going to have a profound effect on healthcare delivery. This technology has the potential to improve medical diagnoses and treatment planning. AI can also generate documentation for medical records and save time, something that is at a premium in the medical world.


The role of AI has been a hot topic in medical journals and the media. In “There’s One Hard Question My Fellow Doctors and I Need to Answer Soon” (New York Times July 6, 2023), Dr. Daniela Lamas poses the question, “Where does specialized expertise live? If the thought process to arrive at a diagnosis can be done by a computer “co-pilot,” how does that change the practice of medicine, for doctors and for patients?”


I have little doubt that computer generated data could be useful to clinicians and improve health outcomes for patients, especially those facing serious illness. But, as you would imagine, I’ve been thinking about how this revolution will influence healthcare communication, an essential component to understanding medical information and making informed decisions about care.


Dr Lamas tells us, “…patients will be using these technologies, asking questions and coming to us with potential answers.” For me, the key issue is how medical information is processed.


In my role as a medical humanist, I’ve observed how patients are often overwhelmed and do not know what questions to ask. It may very well be that a computer can also be programmed to suggest questions to ask but it’s clear to me that open and honest communication between patient and healthcare provider will always be the foundation for thoughtful discussions about risks and benefits of treatment options. Of course, clinicians also need to pay attention to what patients are not asking.


Dr. Lamas, a pulmonologist and critical care physician, acknowledges, “Perhaps being an expert doesn’t mean being a fount of information but synthesizing and communicating and using judgment to make hard decisions. A.I. can be part of that process, just one more tool that we use, but it will never replace a hand at the bedside, eye contact, understanding — what it is to be a doctor.”


I think about what it is to be a patient – entering uncharted territory without a roadmap. Like Dr. Lamas, I recognize that a doctor’s “computer co-pilot” can offer the most up to date recommendations but patients must still be able to understand the risks and benefits of treatment options in order to know what choice would be best for them. To help facilitate this complicated communication process, I created SpeakSooner: A Patient’s Guide to Difficult Conversations, a practical hands-on tool to help patients identify and articulate their questions, concerns and supportive care needs. When hard decisions have to be made, no computer program can replace a healthcare relationship built on empathy and trust.