Physician viewpoint: AI could 'unintentionally exacerbate many of the worst aspects' of healthcare

Evidence indicates artificial intelligence could replace physicians, particularly when it comes to things like reading mammograms or retinal scans, but current technology may have a major flaw, according to two former Obama administration officials.

In a viewpoint published by the Brookings Institution, Bob Kocher, MD, and Zeke Emanuel, MD, PhD, argue that current AI technology could reproduce the disparities in access, treatment and outcomes that are baked into the healthcare data sets that power these tools, while missing elements of clinical intuition that may not be reflected in the data.

"AI is only as good as the humans programming it and the system in which it operates. If we are not careful, AI could not make healthcare better, but instead unintentionally exacerbate many of the worst aspects of our current healthcare system," Drs. Kocher and Emanuel wrote.

The physicians give an example of a tool used at Pittsburgh-based UPMC to determine the risk of pneumonia-related mortality for ED patients. The tool was able to accurately predict mortality, but incorrectly concluded that two groups were low-risk: patients over 100 years old and patients with asthma. While both groups did have low pneumonia-related mortality in UPMC's ED, it was because clinicians anticipated the patients would be at risk and gave them antibiotics before registering the patients in the EHR. 

Dr. Emanuel is a venture partner at Oak HC/FT and vice provost and chair of the department of medical ethics and health policy at University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Dr. Kocher is a partner at venture capital firm Venrock, an adjunct professor of medicine at Stanford (Calif.) University School of Medicine, and a fellow at USC Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics. The article was published under a partnership between USC's health policy center and Brookings.

Read the full viewpoint here.


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