Previously, we have written about the potential for software programs to replace lawyers in providing some (but not all) of the services lawyers traditionally provide. In a post for the Brookings Institution, Bob Kocher and Zeke Emanuel articulate the potential and pitfalls of the use of AI and robots in replacing doctors:
A 2017 study out of the Massachusetts General Hospital and MIT showed that an artificial intelligence (AI) system was equal or better than radiologists at reading mammograms for high risk cancer lesions needing surgery. A year earlier, and reported by the Journal of the American Medical Association, Google showed that computers are similar to ophthalmologists at examining retinal images of diabetics. And recently, computer-controlled robots performed intestinal surgery successfully on a pig. While the robot took longer than a human, its sutures were much better—more precise and uniform with fewer chances for breakage, leakage, and infection. Tech boosters believe that AI will lead to more evidence-based care, more personalized care, and fewer errors.
The article is mostly focused on questions of algorithmic transparency and how that can play into sub-optimal policy decisions (especially for minority patients, as is also the case in criminal sentencing algorithms), but the idea of robots performing a number of tasks traditionally reserved for doctors is quite exciting.
But while R2-D2, MD is a few decades away, there are a number of other options available to policymakers today that would reduce the costs of healthcare while increasing access for patients in the form of expanding scope-of-practice for nurse practitioners and physician assistants, whom many MDs believe can perform most (if not all) of their jobs in the case of primary care physicians, freeing up doctors to enter into more specialized fields.