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Artificial intelligence in healthcare requires a reinvention of the doctor’s profession

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Artificial intelligence in healthcare requires a reinvention of the doctor’s profession

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Artificial intelligence (AI) in healthcare. Are we going in the right direction? For Alessandro Vespignani, professor of Physics and Health Sciences at Northeastern University, founder of the Northeastern Network Science Institute in Boston and president of the Isi Foundation – the international center of excellence in the field of complex systems and data – it is necessary to take stock of the pros and the cons of AI applied to healthcare, but with a realistic approach, far from the conspiracy or messianic narrative that has been created up to now.

«A kind of magical thinking is developing around AI, according to which machines will either save us from anything or, at the other extreme, will take us to the end of the world. Both are messages that distance us from reality. There is a technology which – far from acquiring human thought – contemplates great benefits and great risks which however must be analyzed on a case by case basis. The issue of transparency, for example, becomes fundamental not to understand if we are close to the thinking machine, but if that algorithm is really precise, if the prediction percentage is correct, if it works for all populations. These are the questions we need to ask ourselves. Because AI is a tool to support the doctor who knows how to use it, as it does not make deterministic predictions, that is, it does not say “you have this disease”, but is expressed in percentages. And like all tools it must be regulated, case by case. In other words, the rules that apply to air transport are not the same as those of wheel transport, the same applies to AI applied in the medical field”.

And here the crucial theme of training opens up

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«Yes, but even in this case, compared to the current narrative, the theme is not that the AI ​​will replace the doctor, but it requires a reinvention of the doctor’s profession. So the question is: how many doctors know how to interact with AI and offer this service? In this case, the real risk is that bubbles of excellence are created which then become bubbles of privilege, rather than a service accessible to all. Are we going in that direction? The point is that the health sector has already experienced many revolutions and it is not the first time that it has had to reinvent itself, but all this happened over a much longer period of time. Now with AI we are no longer talking about decades, but about 1-3 years, we are in a phase of exponential acceleration which is experienced on an unprecedented time scale. So the urgency to review training is now, in 5 years it will be too late, and we cannot create another generation of doctors incapable of using these tools. And it’s not just about the training of the single individual, but of the entire system. As the pandemic has taught us: access to data is decisive when we talk about health, without data access platforms, with all the relevant perimeters, it means losing lives and not exploiting the great benefits offered by this technology“.

And how does public health change?

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