Fear not the rise of the algorithms, Sawad Thotathil of Persistent Systems writes.
In the new age of analytics and algorithms, clinicians could be forgiven for wondering if a few decades down the road they might find themselves out of a job. One can imagine buggy manufacturers feeling the same way as the horseless carriage started to gain momentum. But there is one key piece missing from this comparison. And it’s critical to understanding how the digital transformation revolution will energize, not demobilize, a new generation of clinicians with capabilities that were only dreamed of a few short years ago.
To understand this transformation, it’s helpful to look at the new electric truck design just released by Tesla Motors. The idea of automated, self-driving trucks has been understandably intimidating, with concerns that run the gamut from roadway safety to the elimination of trucking jobs. But this new approach, however, doesn't mean we replace human drivers with total AI control. The design of the new truck is focused on empowering the driver, with features including automatic braking, lane-keeping, and lane departure warnings.
Looking ahead, proposed advances from Tesla and other companies include “platooning,” where a driver in the lead truck controls a line of vehicles augmented with AI, or a “drone” concept where a driver sits comfortably in a simulator to control the truck at a distance.
Within all of these ideas, you can find one common denominator: A driver spending less on a monotonous drive, allowing their human experiences, intuition, and decision-making capabilities to be maximized when they are needed most in ways where algorithms might not be able to predict.
From Trucking to the Exam Room: How the Core Value of Digital Transformation Stays the Same
How does all of this apply to the analytics revolution in healthcare? There’s no denying that a part of the clinician’s profession is slowly, but precisely, being replaced by algorithms. No medical professional is ‘safe’ from some level of automation. Robotics will most likely transform even surgical applications that require a high level of manual dexterity at some point.
But that doesn't mean that clinicians’ knowledge, experience, intuition, and expertise are no longer needed. Analytics will augment their ability to spread their wisdom with far greater reach to far more patients than was ever before possible. Medical professionals engage in continuous exploration and research focused on improving outcomes, with the hope of transforming their research findings into routine practice. The analytics-enhanced future of clinicians may become centered on managing and improving the algorithms that ultimately take over the more repetitive and mundane work in healthcare.
What this affords is the ability for clinicians to provide direct care to the most complex patient cases and let cognitive algorithms handle the more routine cases.
Digital Transformation Means Healthcare Delivery at a Transformative Scale
Just as automated trucks will redefine the scale of the reach and ability of drivers, a reallocation of cognitive resources in healthcare will help scale the impact and performance of every clinician. The result is reduced cost of care delivery and the ability to fill in some of the emerging healthcare skill shortages.
In this perspective, the digital transformation of healthcare occurs at two levels. The first is the standardized execution of clinical knowledge through algorithms; and the second is the way algorithms become the tool for efficient redistribution of work across the system.
Advancements in healthcare analytics can keep healthcare organizations one step ahead of economic pressures from payers, regulations and the ever-evolving demands of the healthcare consumer. Yet, healthcare AI should never be viewed as a Darwinian replacement for the nuanced wisdom of the healthcare professional. In reality, analytics is both a survival and a growth strategy as healthcare moves into a newer and stronger digital age.
Dr. Sawad Thotathil, Clinician and Senior Director, Persistent Systems, directs product strategy and management for the company’s Digital Healthcare group, helping health systems achieve their digital transformation goals.