Deep empathy: How AI can strengthen doctor-patient connections
Some experts may worry that AI will depersonalize health care, but others see its potential to deepen relationships.
- Today's rate of innovation and change has made it difficult for patients and physicians to effectively integrate technology into medical best practices.
- Experts agree that physicians need more time in their day to build bonds with patients.
- Dr. Eric Topol believes that artificial intelligence may help restore that time, creating what he calls "deep medicine."
Today's rate of technological change is as unprecedented as it is unpredictable. This speed of innovation has created medical marvels that improve and save lives. Other technologies, however, have proven more difficult for physicians and patients alike to integrate successfully into health care practices.
"Exhibit A is the electronic health record (EHR), which has made the blood of countless physicians boil with frustration," writes Michael Dowling, president and CEO of Northwell Health, in his book Health Care Reboot. Created to store, track and share patient records, "[t]he EHR can be a cruel taskmaster, demanding a doctor's attention during a patient visit and requiring numerous clicks to enter even basic data."
Physicians spend an average of six hours per workday logging clinical data into the EHR—and face-time with patients suffers. The average doctor-patient consultation clocks in at 18 minutes, and a fair amount of that time goes to logging information.
Like it or not, technology is part of the patient experience. One study found that barriers to widespread adoption of electronic personal health records will likely include computer anxiety and concerns for security and privacy.
For better or worse, technology is affecting the doctor-patient relationship. According to Eric Topol, executive vice president of Scripps Research, the most beneficial change can come if we properly navigate artificial intelligence.
Will AI replace doctors?
With AI taking on the routine work, doctors will have more time to be actively involved with patients and referring physicians.
Photo: Tom Werner/Getty Images
That may sound counterintuitive. Technology like EHRs have affected doctor-patient interactions, and when we speak of AI entering a job market, it's with premonitions of the robopocalypse. Consider America's roughly 2 million truckers, who may lose their jobs to self-driving vehicles.
Yet blue-collar jobs are not the only ones subject to AI takeover. Some jobs that require the most advanced education are more likely to become obsolete, according to entrepreneur Andrew Yang. "Doctors, lawyers, accountants, wealth advisers, traders, journalists, and even artists and psychologists who perform routine activities will be threatened by automation technologies," he writes in The War on Normal People.
Day-to-day workplace routines will determine whether AI can perform a job, because the technology can perform routine tasks faster and more accurately than people, without needing a break.
To pick one example from medical practice, radiologists spend much of their time analyzing patient films. It takes years of education to develop that skill. Even then, certain diagnoses can be tricky and human deficiencies, such as confirmation bias and inattentional blindness, can lead to mistakes.
Deep learning could streamline the process of analyzing medical images. One day, AI may be able to read more medical images more quickly and compare them to a catalog exponentially larger than anyone could memorize. It may also detect anomalies too fine for detection by the human eye. And you only have to develop an AI once, as opposed to the extensive costs of training and maintaining human radiologists.
AI is unlikely to eliminate the need for radiologists, but rather it may enable radiologists to be more actively involved with patients and referring physicians as part of the care team. We're years away from AI becoming commonplace in radiology departments. However, the principles are sound and the technology is already under development. Some day, when AI can manage standalone diagnosis for routine cases, radiologists will be free to focus on the most challenging cases.
AI will free up radiologists' time to work on the most challenging cases. Here, neuroradiologists in Paris operate on a patient affected with an arteriovenous deformation.
Photo GERARD JULIEN/AFP/Getty Images
Deep learning, deeper empathy
In Deep Medicine, Topol suggests that well-implemented AI can free physicians from repetitive tasks, providing more face time to meet, inform, reassure and follow up with patients. It can also minimize burnout and improve health care quality. Topol cites one study from the National Bureau of Economic Research that found for every extra minute a home visit lasts, risk of readmission was reduced by 8 percent.
The same gains may be possible with EHRs. Integrated AI can make it easier to log entries, consolidate records, and draw data from external sources such as a patient's smartwatch or mobile device.
"Human performance is unlikely to change materially over time. But machines will progressively outperform humans for various narrow tasks," Topol writes. "To take humans to the next level, we need to up our humanist qualities, that which will always differentiate us from machines." He calls deep learning's potential to support medical empathy and outcomes "deep empathy."
A humane pairing
Busywork and routine labor so severely cut into physician schedules that Danielle Ofri, an associate professor of medicine at New York University School of Medicine, has suggested imposing fines on hospitals that detract too much from patient face-time.
As the National Bureau of Economic Research survey suggests, health care is a field where literally every minute counts.
"Most importantly ... when people are sick, they need empathy," Topol told Big Think in an interview. "They need the person who is their doctor to be with them, to understand what they're going through, because being in pain and being sick is the loneliest thing in the world. And if you don't have a doctor that is empathic, that is the worst-case scenario. We've got to get that back."
But Topol indicates a caveat: Implementing AI in health care just as an efficiency tool would counteract potential gains in doctor-patient relationships.
Michael Dowling agrees. As he told Big Think in an interview: "A lot of publicity has been given to a lot of these [big tech] players. But the core of the care being delivered to people who are very sick is still being done at hospitals and doctors' and ambulatory sites."
And that core must be building a humane — and, indeed, human — doctor-patient relationship.
Archaeologists discover a cave painting of a wild pig that is now the world's oldest dated work of representational art.
- Archaeologists find a cave painting of a wild pig that is at least 45,500 years old.
- The painting is the earliest known work of representational art.
- The discovery was made in a remote valley on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.
Oldest Cave Art Found in Sulawesi<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a9734e306f0914bfdcbe79a1e317a7f0"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/b-wAYtBxn7E?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Persian polymath and philosopher of the Islamic Golden Age teaches us about self-awareness.
81% of women (and 43% of men) have experienced some form of sexual harassment, according to a separate 2018 study.
- Sexual harassment is defined as behavior that is characterized by the making of unwelcome and inappropriate sexual remarks or physical advances.
- Results of a 2018 survey showed that 81% of women (and 43% of men) had experienced some form of sexual harassment in their lifetime.
- According to a new study published by the American Psychological Association, women who do not fit female stereotypes for beauty are less likely to be seen as victims of sexual harassment, and if they claim they were harassed, they are less likely to be believed.
Women who do not fit typical female beauty stereotypes are less likely to be believed as sexual harassment victims<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTQ1NTg4NS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMzMwOTI3M30.g_jcERVu9uPRysiJYebwoGkSg62Tti7WiUHLshskYEU/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C438%2C0%2C438&height=700" id="9206e" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="3709bef713dd50c5346f43a13e9f1145" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="sexual harassment complaint form sexual harassment victim" data-width="1245" data-height="700" />
The study conducted a series of 11 multi-method experiments, involving over 4,000 participants.
Image by Andrey Popov on Adobe Stock<p><a href="https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2021-01/apa-shc011221.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">According to a new study</a> published by the American Psychological Association, women who do not fit female stereotypes for beauty are less likely to be seen as victims of sexual harassment, and if they claim they were harassed, they are less likely to be believed.</p><p>"Sexual harassment is pervasive and causes significant harm, yet far too many women cannot access fairness, justice, and legal protection, leaving them susceptible to further victimization and harm within the legal system," says Cheryl Kaiser, Ph.D., of the University of Washington and a co-author of the study says to <a href="https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2021-01/apa-shc011221.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Eurekalert.</a></p><p>According to Kaiser, sexual harassment claims were deemed less credible (and the harassment was perceived as less psychologically harmful) when it targeted a victim who was less attractive and/or did not act according to the stereotype of a typical woman. </p><p><strong>The study conducted a series of 11 multi-method experiments, involving over 4,000 participants.<br></strong>This study was designed to investigate the effects a victim's fit to the concept of a typical woman had on participants' view of sexual harassment (and the consequences of that mental association).</p><p><strong>In five experiments, participants read scenarios in which women either did or did not experience sexual harassment.<br></strong>Participants assessed the extent to which these women fit the idealized image of women, either by drawing what they thought the woman might look like or selecting from a series of photos. Across all experiments, participants perceived the targets of sexual harassment as more stereotypical than those who did not experience harassment.</p><p><strong>In the next four experiments, participants were shown ambiguous sexual harassment scenarios which were then paired with descriptions or photos of women who were either stereotypical or not.<br></strong>The participants then rated the likelihood that the incident constituted sexual harassment. According to another author of the study, participants were less likely to label these ambiguous scenarios as sexual harassment when the targets were non-stereotypical women (compared with stereotypical women), despite the fact that, in some cases, the incident was the exact same.</p><p><strong>The final two experiments in this study found that sexual harassment claims were often viewed as less credible when the victim adhered less to the typical female stereotype.<br></strong>Even when a stereotypical woman and non-stereotypical woman submitted the same claim, it was deemed as less credible if the woman was perceived as less feminine. Additionally, the participants found the harassment to be deemed as less psychologically harmful when experienced by a non-stereotypical female.</p><p><em>"Our findings demonstrate that non-stereotypical women who are sexually harassed may be vulnerable to unjust and discriminatory treatment when they seek legal recourse," </em>co-author Bryn Bandt-Law, a doctoral student at the University of Washington, explains in an interview to Eurekalert. <em>"</em></p><p><em>If women's nonconformity to feminine stereotypes biases perceptions of their credibility and harm caused by harassment, as our results suggest, it could prevent non-stereotypical women who are sexually harassed from receiving the civil rights protections afforded to them by law."</em><br></p><p><strong>**If you or someone you know has experienced sexual harassment or assault, contact the <a href="https://www.rainn.org/about-national-sexual-assault-telephone-hotline" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline</a> at 800-656-4673. You are not alone.**</strong></p>
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