Some say technology will replace 80% of doctors in the future. I disagree. Instead, technology will finally allow doctors to focus on what makes them good physicians: treating patients and innovating, while automation does the repetitive part of the work. While every specialty will benefit from digital health, some will especially thrive due to these innovations. Here, we enlisted the medical fields with the biggest potential for development in the future.
No More Repetition – Doctors of the Future Will Treat and Innovate
Artificial intelligence, wearable sensors, virtual reality, medical robots – these disruptive technologies are completely changing the way patients and doctors think and act about healthcare. Silicon Valley investor Vinod Khosla once said that technology would replace 80 percent of doctors in the future because machines will be more accurate, objective and cheaper than the average doctor. We would not need doctors at all eventually, he added.
I disagree. Instead, technology in some specialties will finally allow doctors to focus on what makes them good physicians: treating patients and innovating, while automation will do the repetitive part of the work.
While digital health already has a huge impact on the way doctors work, it clearly matters a lot what kind of tasks we allow them to take over. There are many repetitive and monotonous tasks which most medical professionals hate to do, while digital health solutions can do it better, faster and cheaper. These tasks usually do not contain any creativity or empathy. I would say the human touch is missing completely. Digital health should replace such responsibilities. Yet, as healthcare is not a linear process where an input leads inevitably to the wished output, there is a bigger need for the creativity and unique problem-solving skills of doctors than ever. These are the skills no digital health device or software can and will replace.
So, the process of digital technology coming into healthcare is more complex than just saying AI or robotics will take over jobs. As with other fields of innovation, there will be areas or jobs which will be more affected than others, there will be specialties that will thrive more than others. Here you find at least ten medical specialties which will benefit from the technological revolution.
1) General practice
Many doctors choose this specialty today to make a long-term impact on someone’s life. And it is true: GPs enjoy tremendous trust from their patients. But seeing someone only when they are feeling sick makes it difficult to prevent disease and ensure someone’s well-being. It is even harder to do so when waiting rooms are overcrowded, and you only have a few minutes to diagnose illness, design a therapy and offer health advice.
Wearable sensors and devices that stream data to a doctor’s smartphone, notifying them whenever vital signs are acting up will provide them with all the necessary data for providing care. These will also ensure doctors only treat those who really need professional care, making it possible to offer simple treatment advice remotely. In turn, this will increase the time GPs have to treat and advise each patient, building trust and ensuring patients act on the doctor’s advice. What’s more, smart algorithms will ensure the GP can tap expert advice on rare disease and act as a gatekeeper to other specialties.
Digital health assistants and medical chatbots could also significantly ease the burden on GPs. In the future, patients could turn to chatbots with simpler questions about their health, about certain drugs or manage their administrative matters. The UK’s National Health Service (NHS) already recognized the potential in chatbots: they will start to use a chatbot app for dispensing medical advice for a trial period in 2017 to mitigate the pressure on its 111 non-emergency helplines. The NHS is developing the app with Babylon Health, one of the new breed of paid, doctor-on-demand services. Also, bots like HealthTap or Your.Md, aim to help patients find a solution to the most common symptoms through AI.
Pediatrics today have a very limited window of time for assessing the status and health of a baby or the pregnant mother. Wearable devices that monitor the mother’s and the child’s vital signs will ensure that in the case of an emergency, delivering care will not depend on the mother’s luck.
Though from an ethical point of view it is a very controversial area, cheap genome sequencing from the mother’s blood and genome editing methods like CRISPR might well make it possible for pediatricians to correct any genetic conditions in utero. It might also lead to designer babies. With the same method, cheap whole-genome sequencing, pediatricians could also access a vast amount of data to diagnose and treat children.
Deep learning algorithms and narrow AI started to buzz around the field of medical imaging lately, and many radiologists went into panic mode. From the discourse around them, they got the idea that AI will replace radiologists soon. Yet, I rather believe that AI will augment their jobs and free them from plenty of their monotonous and repetitive tasks. Radiologists’ future will be much more exciting than checking hundreds of X-rays a day.
For example, IBM launched an algorithm called Medical Sieve qualified to assist in clinical decision making in radiology and cardiology. It can scan hundreds of radiology images in seconds; and it is able to find easily recognizable malignant or out of place phenomena, while radiologists can deal with the complex cases and difficult issues.
And we are not far from the close cooperation of AI and radiology in clinical practice. The FDA approved the first cloud-based deep learning algorithm for cardiac imaging developed by Arterys in 2017. According to some estimations, within 3 years we’ll have many machine learning algorithms in active clinical pilot testing and in approved use. Bradley Erickson, Director of the Radiology Informatics Lab at Mayo Clinic told me that although it is not likely that AI would create preliminary radiology reports about its screenings for everything in 10 years, there is a pretty good chance it will do it in certain fields. How exciting does that sound?
This specialty will bring science fiction technologies to patients in the near future. Retinal implants might give vision back to those who lost it or grant humans supervision augmenting what we can do. Digital contact lenses could transform both how we look at the world while also revolutionizing certain areas such as diabetes care. For example, Google teamed up with Novartis, to produce digital, multi-sensor contact lenses which is designed to be able to measure blood sugar levels.
Google and Novartis said the lens would contain a tiny and ultra slim microchip that would be embedded in one of its thin concave sides. Through its equally tiny antenna, it would send data about the glucose measurements from the user’s tears to his or her paired smartphone via installed software. Originally, the companies promised to put the digital contact lens around 2020 on the market, but Novartis Chief Executive Joe Jimenez in 2015 said that the contact lens would be on track to begin testing that year – and backtracked later.
Since then, there has been no news about the state of progress. However, in March 2017 Novartis Chairman Joerg Reinhardt talked down the chances of the project bringing visible results in the next couple of years.
Also, cheap smartphone-connected sen