How can AIs get you get more time with your human doctor?
Dr. Joseph Kvedar, Vice president, Connected Health Partners HealthCare
Projected life expectancy for U.S. women in 2030. For men, it’s 79.5 putting us toward the bottom of the 35 industrial nations studied.
Dr. Joe Kvedar is doing the math and looking at trends. With a long career in connected health, he is eager for artificial intelligence technologies to take hold. Not for the sake of new and shiny things, but because he hopes they can bridge the gap between our growing need for care and the dwindling number of caregivers.
When he thinks about What the Future, he’s wondering if people will accept AI if it means more time with their doctors and a smoother experience with the healthcare system.
GenPop: Your question presented a scenario where patients begin their healthcare experience not with a phone menu, or an operator, but an artificial intelligence or computerassisted system. Why is that important to ask?
(Source: Ipsos suvery conducted between May 17 and 21, 2018 among 1,890 adults in the U.S.)
Source: Ipsos survey conducted between February 23 and 26, 2018 among 619 adults employed full- or part-time
Dr. Joe Kvedar: It’s important because of the demographic shifts that are occurring. By 2035, for the first time in history, there will be more people over 65 than under age 5. That demographic shift continues and becomes more pronounced. All of the older folks need more care from the healthcare system, and they need more caregiving from their loved ones. But if we’re running out of young people to do that work, we have to think of delivering care in a different way.
GenPop: The data from our survey shows that people are receptive to a situation where a computer program or AI becomes a front-end for some of their healthcare experience. About eight in 10 Americans say they are open to this idea, and even higher numbers of younger Americans.
Kvedar: I’m a little surprised and delighted that your survey data turned out to be that optimistic. The healthcare system that we’re talking about, using connected health technologies, is designed to make my life as a patient easier while maintaining quality care and outcomes. As long as patients feel like they are being well cared for and can have human interaction with their healthcare provider when and if they need it, there are times in the healthcare delivery process when it is not necessary to interact with a provider at all.
GenPop: Do you think people will be comfortable having these very personal discussions with a computer?
Kvedar: The little bit of evidence we have on this is very uplifting in the sense that there are a number of examples of bots or relational agents where it’s been demonstrated that people are more forthcoming about topics like sexually transmitted diseases or other potentially embarrassing things when they’re dealing with a piece of software.
GenPop: But the AI can’t yet just look at you and see you have a horribly broken arm…
Kvedar: Certainly in the near term and maybe forever, I don’t think every healthcare interaction can be triaged in this way. Most of the value we’re talking about is going to be in the area of primary or secondary prevention methods and chronic illness. These technology platforms can be used to identify a health concern, track how an individual is managing their health or help them manage a chronic condition, for example.
If I’m having chest pain or I just broke my arm, then I should bypass the technology and go directly to a healthcare provider. We’ll have to train these emerging technologies to recognize a more urgent medical need and respond accordingly. So, if I report chest pain, the system should tell me to head straight to the emergency room.
GenPop: How soon will this happen?
Kvedar: I’m seeing [a number of start-ups] crop up. Most of them are being billed as ‘symptom checkers.” So that’s not a full suite of experiences, but it’s a start. Symptom checkers somehow sounds safe and outside of the mainstream of care, where really the more sophisticated platforms are not just checking symptoms. They’re taking a full medical history and making a lot of assumptions about you and your health, and putting you in front of the right healthcare provider. Companies who are getting into this space are not daring to say, ‘We’re coming in with a product that might extend the human being.” They’re saying, ‘We’re symptom checkers.” That seems like a safer way to describe it.
GenPop: You say ‘extend the human being.” What do you mean by that?
Kvedar: A very crude analogy is the way a lot of customer support websites are set up now, with tiers or levels of support. You can read FAQs. If you don’t understand that, you’re instructed to download the user manual. Then there’s always a link that says ‘Chat,” and if those chatbots can’t solve the problem, your case is escalated and eventually you are put in contact with a person. The ultimate goal is creating a whole suite of technology. Using chatbots and other artificial intelligence, the individual in the call center can interact with maybe 10 or 15 times as many people as they could if they were purely answering phone calls. That’s where we have to get to in healthcare, where all the front-end work is done by computers and AI. It frees the healthcare provider, not just to be more human and caring, but also to use their capacity for judgment and emotional intelligence – all of the things that humans
do that machines don’t.
July 24, 2018