Artificial Intelligence and Family Medicine: Better Together

According to futurists, the artificial intelligence (AI) revolution in health care is here. While trending now, the concept is not new and was first introduced 70 years ago when Alan Turing described “thinking machines.” John McCarthy later coined the term “AI” to denote the idea of getting a computer to do things which, when done by people, are said to involve intelligence. What is new is the digitization of everything from electronic health records (EHRs) to genes and microbiomes, which provide the data that AI needs to learn. This conversion of images, handwritten notes, and pathology slides into 1’s and 0’s allows machines to perform a wide range of tasks, such as detecting retinopathy, skin cancer, and lung nodules. Even though this surge of available data exceeds what individuals and teams can realistically manage, computers have learned how to process these data to predict outcomes important to our patients, including opioid misuse, emergency department visits, and deaths. Advances like these led Andy Conrad, the CEO of Google’s life sciences subsidiary, to declare that in medicine,“the most important tool is the computer.” 10