Episode #69: Humanizing Healthcare with Artificial Intelligence – with Dr. Eric Topol

A lot has been said about the application of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to healthcare. These discussions typically center on AI’s ability to improve diagnostic accuracy, reduce medical errors, lower healthcare costs, enhance productivity, and even replace providers. We will cover some of that ground as well, but our guest’s perspective takes the discussion far beyond those more familiar topics. His firm belief is that the major impact AI could have on healthcare delivery would be to restore “the human bond, the human touch, and the human factor that has been lost.”

This is a unique opinion, but not surprising, given the source. Dr. Eric Topol is a leading global authority on Precision & Personalized Medicine. He is also one of the most outspoken physicians I’ve ever encountered on the issue of patient advocacy, and in his own words, “patient activism.”

Dr. Topol is the Founder and Director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute. Prior to assuming his leadership role at Scripps in 2007, he led the Cleveland Clinic to become the #1 center for heart care in the country.  He is a nationally renowned cardiologist and literally a superstar in the world of academic Medicine, being one of the top ten most cited medical researchers. He has been elected to the National Academy of Medicine and was voted the #1 most influential physician leader in the United States by Modern Healthcare. In 2016, Dr. Topol was awarded a $207M grant from the NIH to lead a significant part of the Precision Medicine (All of Us) Initiative – one of the largest NIH grants ever awarded.  As if all of this wasn’t enough, he has published 2 bestseller books on the future of medicine: The Creative Destruction of Medicine & The Patient Will See You Now.  His most recent book, Deep Medicine: How Artificial Intelligence Can Make Healthcare Human Again, was published this year.

The issues we’ll cover in this interview include:

  • Dr. Topol’s perspective on the “shallow medicine” being practiced today and how it harms patients as well as providers.
  • The various applications of AI to healthcare, and Dr. Topol’s take on the most mature and proven applications of AI in Medicine today.
  • The most significant benefit of Artificial Intelligence in healthcare – “the gift of time” and how it can revitalize and rehumanize medical care – for both patients and providers.
  • The challenges, hurdles, and risks we face in further developing and deploying AI-enabled healthcare.
  • Dr. Topol’s refreshing perspective on the characteristics of the ideal medical student, and the relational characteristics we should encourage and support in healthcare providers.

What you’ll come away with from this interview is an understanding of how Artificial Intelligence has the potential to elevate the profession of Medicine – not just through the enhancement of diagnostic accuracy, reduction of errors, lowering of costs and a literal leapfrog in efficiency. But, more importantly, through its ability to free up providers’ time and attention, so they can focus on being empathetic experts, guides & teachers. It is this that will restore the human bond that is so sought after in healthcare delivery today. Dr. Topol is keen to point out that this is as much a “gift” to providers as it is to patients.

If you listen carefully, you’ll also hear Dr. Topols ‘call-to-action’. He urges us all to become “patient activists” because the future of healthcare is by no means a certain or secure one. He believes that we collectively have the ability, and the responsibility, to assure that the future of healthcare is a hopeful and healing one.

I read Dr. Topol’s book, Deep Medicine, and I would urge you to as well. It’s an enlightening and important read. Listening to him speak in this interview, however, gave me an even deeper sense of his integrity, his vision and his humanism. Dr. Topol is, to my mind, one of the greatest physicians, medical researchers, scholars and healthcare leaders of our time. But, what makes him even more unique is the fierce and sustained sense of patient advocacy and humanitarianism that he brings to Medicine & healthcare delivery. This interview left me with a renewed sense of responsibility, purpose and hope, and a strong desire to reframe healthcare – from a shallow to a Deep Medicine.

Until next time, Be Well.

Zeev Neuwirth, MD