Is AI coming to a GP near you?

robotic doctor taking blood pressure of patient

Who hasn’t researched a medical problem with Dr Google, despite warnings from your real doctor not to go there? Well now, AI is muscling in and it’s the doctors themselves who are using it.

If you haven’t heard of AI – artificial intelligence – it’s here to stay. And it will certainly have an impact on your life, one way or another.

The question is, will that impact be positive or negative? The term AI covers a broad range of concepts and tools. Wikipedia defines AI as “the intelligence of machines or software, as opposed to the intelligence of human beings or animals”. Britannica’s definition varies slightly: “The ability of a digital computer or computer-controlled robot to perform tasks commonly associated with intelligent beings.”

Both definitions encompass a wide range of tools. AI can be used for frivolous things, but also for potentially life-saving tasks. Two Australian doctors have developed what is believed to be the first commercially available AI tool to streamline GP consultations. Doctors Umair Masood and Chris Irwin are using at their practices in Gisborne and Ivanhoe in Victoria. ‘takes notes’ as the GP consults with a patient and can assist them with a diagnosis. The word ‘assist’ is important here. In one example, Dr Masood diagnosed a patient as having osteopenia, or low bone density. But his tool went further, prompting him to consider an overactive parathyroid, vitamin D deficiency and chronic kidney disease.

Dr Masood believes the ‘advice’ from the tool was beneficial. “I knew the diagnosis was osteopenia, but the technology gave me some other things to think about,” he said.

In addition to diagnosis assistance, the tool creates notes so the GP doesn’t have to. This allows the GP to maintain eye contact with the patient.

Are there any risks?

Some are concerned that the use of AI in medical situatiuons could pose a risk to patients. But Dr Masood says such fears are unfounded. “It reduces the administrative burden for doctors so they can spend more time with their patients,” he says. “It also gives us diagnostic guidance. But it does not replace a doctor’s clinical judgement.”

Further to that, the tool can be used only with a patient’s express consent.

From a legal standpoint, any liability remains with the GP. The Medical Board of Australia (MBA) agrees. An MBA spokesperson said doctors, not technology, were ultimately responsible for diagnosing patients.

What else can AI do?

Basically, you name it. AI can be applied to so many aspects of life – even in the art world. My son, who has a penchant for the absurd (I can’t imagine where he got that from!) has exploited this with hilarious results.

For example he’ll instruct AI to “create a painting of retiring AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan surfing”. The online tool will then use its ‘knowledge’ – gleaned from all corners of the online universe – to create its ‘artwork’.

For those who don’t know, McLachlan has big eyes, a prominent bouffant, and is almost always seen wearing a suit. The AI tool my son uses seems to know these three things, but perhaps not much more.

Most iterations it creates based on my son’s instructions do indeed produce a good likeness of Mr McLachlan surfing. But many have one glaring anomaly: McLachlan is wearing a full suit while riding the waves on his board.

But it does seem that AI has a useful place in our society. One hopes that extends well beyond Mr McLachlan wearing a suit while surfing.

What are your thoughts about the increasing use of AI? Do you have any concerns about its use by medical professionals? Let us know via the comments section below.

Also read: Which jobs are under threat from artificial intelligence?

Written by Andrew Gigacz

Andrew has developed knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income and government entitlements, as well as issues affecting older Australians moving into or living in retirement. He's an accomplished writer with a passion for health and human stories.

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