AI will change the practice of medicine

Remembering the importance of caring


As artificial intelligence (AI) takes on more and more tasks in medical care that mimic human cognition, hospitalists and other physicians will need to adapt to a changing role.

Dr. S. Claiborne Johnston, University of Texas at Austin

Dr. S. Claiborne Johnston

Today AI can identify tuberculosis infections in chest radiographs with almost complete accuracy, diagnose melanoma from images of skin lesions more accurately than dermatologists can, and identify metastatic cells in images of lymph node tissue more accurately than pathologists can. The next 20 years are likely to see further acceleration in the capabilities, according to a recent article by S. Claiborne Johnston, MD, PhD.

“AI will change the practice of medicine. The art of medicine, including all the humanistic components, will only become more important over time. As dean of a medical school, I’m training students who will be practicing in 2065,” Dr. Johnston said. “If I’m not thinking about the future, I’m failing my students and the society they will serve.”

The contributions of AI will shift the emphasis for human caregivers to the caring. Studies have shown that the skills of caring are associated with improved patient outcomes, but most medical schools allocate substantial time in the curriculum to memorization and analysis – tasks that will become less demanding as artificial intelligence improves. The art of caring – communication, empathy, shared decision making, leadership, and team building – is usually a minor part of the medical school curriculum.

Effective leadership and creativity are distant aspirations for artificial intelligence but are growing needs in a system of care that is ever more complex.

At Dr. Johnston’s school, the Dell Medical School at the University of Texas at Austin, they have reduced the duration of basic science instruction to 12 months and emphasized group problem solving, while deemphasizing memorization. This has freed up additional time for instruction in the art of caring, leadership, and creativity.

“Hospitalists should acknowledge the value of caring,” Dr. Johnston said. “They do it every day with every patient. It is important today, and will be more important tomorrow.”


Johnston SC. Anticipating and training the physician of the future: The importance of caring in an age of artificial intelligence. Acad Med. 2018;93(8):1105-6. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000002175.

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