What is AI and will it affect me as a GP?

January 31, 2019 Posted by: Hassan Ahmad

What is AI and will it affect me as a GP?

These days everybody is asking me about AI, what is it, how does it work, is it really computer’s thinking for themselves? In this article, I’m looking to break down what AI really means in today’s fast-moving tech world and its implications on medicine and more specifically General Practice.

Firstly, what is AI and what does AI mean in the context most people are placing it in?

Usually, professionals are referring to a subset of AI called “Machine Learning”. This area of technology is rapidly expanding into every aspect of our lives. Microsoft, Google and Amazon all offer ready-to-use cloud platforms which will let you connect to them and provide you with an “AI Service”. What it does is simple – it takes large amounts of data (the more the merrier!) and it returns a model (in the form of an algorithm) which you can then plug into your systems so it can effectively predict outcomes based on a set of parameters. This process is called “training the model”. Imagine having 10s or 100s of parameters, no matter how long you spend staring at the numbers or how many charts you draw you aren’t getting anywhere! Here is where Machine Learning comes in – it will continuously “learn” from that data in order to output a model which will form the basis of an algorithm you can use in whatever area or industry you work in. The key is the data, the more data you have, the more accurate your model becomes.

Deep learning takes things to another level – think of image recognition, sound recognition, robots answering you back. These require complex neural networks which are effectively multiple layers of logic with one level taking the previous level’s data as an input to eventually produce an output. Deep learning tries to mimic to some extent the way a human brain is able to recognise, reason and continuously adapt. Is this intelligent in the way many of us might understand? At present it remains a computer programme which continuously takes inputs and produces outputs, so while it’s a highly advanced machine, it still is exactly that – a machine.

What does this mean for you as a GP?

Think of AI as another tool at your disposal. With ever increasing demands on healthcare and continuously increasing parameters (life style, diet, age, ethnicity), AI can transform the way healthcare is delivered to patients. The AI models that we build can be continuously trained to provide you with predictions on outcomes, best medicines to use and ways to save the NHS £Millions through correct diagnoses and prescription. If GPs embrace this technology and utilise it in the correct way, the healthcare delivered to patients can be of improved quality and give the GP assurance that the diagnosis is correct.

Furthermore, if AI is utilised correctly in the pharmaceutical industry, drugs can be prescribed with increasing accuracy and with decreasing detriment to patients, giving Doctors, ANPs and other prescribers increased confidence in the medicines they are providing to patients. 

Correct implementation of AI could save the NHS £Billions in correct diagnosis, time savings and reduced cost of drugs. This will alleviate the burden facing a great many healthcare professionals, allowing you to advance in your own profession.

Will AI ever replace a GP

This is a very interesting question. Technology can take an increasingly important role in the way healthcare is delivered and assisting GPs with decisions. There are many aspects of care that a robot can simply never take care of. Continuity of care is one area where the human-to-human interaction is pivotal to patient health and well-being – research has clearly demonstrated this to be the case.

Additionally, humans are unlikely to trust a bot on its own, think of catching your next flight without a pilot on board, whilst computers can easily fly aircraft, would a commercial flight ever take off without an experienced pilot? Babylon health claims that bots can outperform GPs in an exam, however, Humans will always depend on the doctor being there regardless of the tools which may assist the outcome, AI or otherwise.

Should I be worried about the rapid rise of AI?

Technology has advanced so rapidly that it so often seems to leave us behind (yes, that applies to us techies too!). Sometimes we feel overwhelmed by all these different changes taking place and negativity takes over – “I am too old for this”, “I can’t keep up with the change” and so on. Because the world of technology is so vast, we can only realistically gain an in-depth understanding of one or two areas at most. The point I am trying to get at is that AI needs human beings behind it – and not one or two but 100s or even 1000s. AI isn’t the only area of technology – find one that you are interested in and is related to your field and actively take an interest in it.

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