Artificial intelligence and the future of healthcare

Greater accuracy and early diagnosis, more personalized treatments, development of preventive medicine, less invasive interventions: these are just a few aspects that will characterize the healthcare of the future thanks to the increasingly widespread diffusion of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning systems. If these are the consequences described by the literature at the clinical level, it is not yet clear what the impact of these systems will be on the work of health professionals, on the one hand, and on the doctor-patient relationship, on the other. To fill this gap, a joint research has been initiated involving theCatholic University of the Sacred Heart (project “Public functions / private powers. Interdisciplinary profiles for the governance without governance of the algorithmic society”, coordinator Professor Gabriel of Death) and Carlo Alberto College Fundamental Rights Workshopin collaboration with Department of Culture, Politics and Society of the University of Turin (responsible Vladimiro Zagrebelsky and professor Mario Cardano).

The study, conducted through 34 interviews with healthcare professionals and patients, focused on two clinical areas particularly affected by digital transformation: that of radiology and that of robotic surgery. The preliminary results of the research highlight some interesting aspects, such as those related to the topic of autonomy and professional responsibility: “Studies investigating collective representations in the field of artificial intelligence – says Linda Lobby, a health sociologist and research team member for the Catholic University team—underscore a widespread fear of the risk of AI algorithms and devices replacing workers. However, in the medical field, healthcare professionals interviewed recognized AI systems in healthcare as valid allies for clinical practice, capable of improving clinical outcomes and workflows, without making the physician’s work obsolete.”

In the first case, this depends on the fact that even when artificial intelligence systems are used, the responsibility for the clinical decision or the results of a surgical procedure rests with the professional: “Reasoning based on the ‘smart’ medical devices currently in use or in phase experimentation, in fact, the doctor still maintains a good level of control over the output of the machine – he argues Nicolo Amorecriminal lawyer and member of the research team of the Fundamental Rights Laboratory – however, already now it is necessary to review training courses, management models and regulatory tools to manage the advent of medical artificial intelligence more effectively, also from the point of view of prevention of the dangers of over-accountability of the health professional and the consequent, pernicious, defensive medicine’.

However, artificial intelligence is destined to fundamentally change clinical practice, especially with regard to the possibility of reducing – once familiar with the use of new technologies – the working time allocated to routine activities or work organization. Time that could be devoted to clinical research and communication with the patient is increasingly insulted today, with very negative consequences for the relationship between professional and client. “Both specialists and patients participating in the study – he observes Eleonora Rosero, a health sociologist in the framework of the work of the Fundamental Rights Laboratory – recognize in the doctor-patient relationship an essential element of care, even in the case of technologically dense treatments such as those carried out in robotic surgery. Trust in the human professional, built through the relationship with the specialist and his team, is just as important as trust in the opportunities that the most advanced technology can offer.”

In light of the imminent if not already observable changes that will intervene in clinical practice, the need to understand the consequences of the introduction of new technological factors in the micro (the therapeutic relationship), the meso (professional boundaries) and the macro (evolution of the health system and the legal system, national and international, regarding IT) appears more relevant and urgent than ever.


¹ Health Sociologist – Catholic University
² Health Sociologist – Collegio Carlo Alberto
³ Criminal lawyer – Collegio Carlo Alberto

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