July 26, 2023
A funny thing happened earlier this year: a Google AI named Med-PaLM 2 took and passed the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination. Yes, it did well, as you might expect of a computer, with 85% accuracy. No, it did not get a license.
The story underlines the idea that artificial intelligence is becoming far more prevalent in medicine, and that includes private practice. We see it in areas from clinic productivity to patient compliance. Students use it to study for the MCAT. Even Nitra’s platform uses AI.
“If you look through the history of medicine, there have always been useful new tools that give clinicians what seemed like superpowers at the time,” Dr. Alan Karthikesalingam, who leads the Google healthcare machine learning research group, told MedPage Today.
He says AI can give “the gift of time” to physicians and staff. “If AI can enable doctors and other caregivers to spend more time with their patients and bring time and humanity to medicine, and if it can increase accessibility and availability for people, that's our goal,” Karthikesalingam said.
Because the term AI gets thrown around, even a technologically savvy clinician could be forgiven for wondering what exactly artificial intelligence is and how it is used. The truth is that AI is not a single technology but many.
The journal Medical Economics offers a solid explanation: “It involves machine learning, where computers get smarter at seeking patterns or connections the more data is input; natural language processing, where computers learn to read and analyze unstructured clinical notes or patient reports; robotic process automation, such as chat bots; diagnostic capabilities such as IBM’s Watson; and even more processes that help with patient adherence and administrative tasks.”
While few experts think that AI will replace medical staff, there are areas where artificial intelligence is more capable than humans. For example, analyzing large amounts of data and recognizing patterns and correlations is an area where AI can be extremely effective. That capability, combined with others, makes a wide range of applications possible.
It is important to keep current on AI technology because it is bringing about changes. It is also controversial. For example, a survey by Pew Research this year showed that 60% of Americans are uncomfortable having AI used in their healthcare for things like diagnosing disease and recommending treatments.
Whether that is because many people do not understand AI and its role, and whether it will change as artificial intelligence enters the mainstream, are open questions. Time will tell. Meanwhile, physicians and staff should keep up with developments.
Where will you find AI used in private practice? Most often, you see it in software designed to help streamline the business and clinical processes that take place in your office. Examples might include insurance claims, prior authorizations and billing.
One promising use for AI is in systems that facilitate medical charting, helping physicians turn conversations with patients into a record of their condition and a plan for treatment. It’s pretty obvious why.
“Writing these notes is one of the big stressors in the health system,” according to the Los Angeles Times. “In the aggregate, it’s an administrative burden. But it’s necessary to develop a record for future providers and, of course, insurers.”
You can find AI in medicine, too. While applications will vary by specialty, AI canassist in patient monitoring, data analysis and power advanced systems that interact with patients to help them manage disease and comply with medication and treatment. Physicians who want to learn more might consider an online course, such as this one offered by MIT.
You also see AI in use at Nitra. Practices that use the Nitra Visa Business Card benefit from a feature that allows them to text or email receipts to the Nitra platform, which automatically reconciles and categorizes them. It saves hours of time each month. That’s AI at work.