Doctor’s ‘bedside manner’ important in AI-dominated healthcare

The CEO of a US doctor-rating website has said that he expects machine learning to take over many clinical functions – meaning physicians’ ‘bedside manner’ is likely to become increasingly important.

In an interview at the JP Morgan Healthcare conference in San Francisco, Zocdoc’s CEO, Oliver Kharraz, said there will probably be a shift in the types of personality attracted to medicine as machines start to perform tasks such as diagnosis and analysing scans.

Kharraz, whose website provides TripAdvisor-style ratings for doctors, told CNBC: “Doctors in the future will come from the same pool as actors.”

The key to success in this brave new world of medicine will be an empathy and an ability to listen, Kharraz said.

There will also be a need for the kind of lateral thinking that is difficult to replicate in AI systems, and an ability to listen to verbal clues.

He cited the example of a doctor who linked a case of pneumonia with a patient’s habit of swallowing chewing gum.

The patient’s lack of a gag reflex led to the gum building up in the lungs – something a computer would not be able to spot.

“Machine learning is great for repetitive things that require large data-sets,” he commented.

Kharraz is the latest healthcare leader to suggest that AI will play an increasingly important role.

Earlier this month, the government’s healthcare tsar, Sir John Bell, said that using AI to diagnose heartbeat and lung cancer scans could halve the NHS’ £2.2 billion pathology spend.

Using AI diagnosis is likely to identify heart abnormalities that would be left undiagnosed by human diagnosis, and reduce the number of false positives.

This would cut the number of patients sent home at risk of having a heart attack, and the number of costly unneeded operations, said Bell.

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