Putting Care Back In Healthcare: A Conversation with Dr. Eric Topol – Part II

Dr. Kadish concludes his discussion with Dr. Eric Topol regarding the restoration of the patient-physician bond, which is hoped for as Artificial Intelligence returns the gift of time to doctors and clinicians. Topol, director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute in La Jolla, California, is a leading authority on AI and Deep Medicine is his newest book on the future of medicine.

Dr. Kadish: Do you think that change in medicine—the type of change that AI is capable of bringing—must happen on the political level, on the legal level, or if physicians need to do a better job taking control of the process so we can do the things that we know are going to improve patient care?

Dr. Topol: I think this has to happen on multiple levels because in order for us to reach the point where care is brought back into healthcare, we have to have a rally of activism among the medical community and among patients. Because if we don’t do that, if we don’t stand up for patients, what happens is a further squeeze, and that’s already happening. It has led to unprecedented levels of burnout and depression, and even suicide… So we can’t allow this to keep going. Change needs to occur at every level—with insurers, with employers, and most importantly with the administrators, the bean counters. They need to be trained so we can give time back to patients and doctors. 

Dr. Kadish: We agree that a radical change is necessary in the way electronic data is processed. But I believe it’s going to take a significant amount of activism to bring that about because, right now, the administrators are really making a lot of the decisions, and I’m not sure that anything besides a grassroots movement is capable of changing that. 

Dr. Topol: We have to get rid of a lot of administrators. Hopefully we’ll be able to do that with AI. Administrators are the first to go, in my view. But after we get rid of a lot of them, then we need to get the ones who are left—the Darwinian group—cueing into the patients. And if they don’t, they should be shamed. We have got to get back to what healthcare and medicine was supposed to be all about. We’ve lost our way, so whoever gets in the way needs to move onto a different walk of life.

Dr. Kadish: If we’re successful at this, how do you see the doctor-patient encounter in 20 years? What would you like it to look like?

Dr. Topol: I think that the patients—those who are willing—will have much more responsibility, because much of their data is seamlessly coming back to them, through a virtual health coach. The doctors and clinicians are getting all this help. So the patient-physician encounter and interaction of the future will be for significant matters. It will take lots of time, not seven minutes but a minimal of 30 minutes if not longer for a routine visit. It’s about having the human-human bond nurtured to an extent that we haven’t seen in too long a time.

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