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Artificial intelligence machines can prompt physicians to discuss end-of-life issues

Written by Diane Archer

StatNews reports on how artificial intelligence machines are prompting physicians to discuss end-of-life issues with their terminally ill patients. At its best, artificial intelligence leads physicians to identify patients who need to consider advance care planning.

Physicians do not have the same ability as artificial intelligence machines to recognize when their patients are terminally ill. Physicians can be pressed for time. And, like everyone else they have a variety of biases that could keep them from recognizing which patients would benefit from advance care planning. Artificial intelligence machines, in sharp contrast, can review and process all the information in a patient’s electronic medical records objectively.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that artificial intelligence machines are better than physicians at predicting whether a patient is terminally ill. And, the data suggests that these machines get it right less than half the time. But, as the machines improve, some believe they could be helpful.

With the help of artificial intelligence, physicians might be prompted to have different conversations with patients than they would otherwise have. If patients are terminally ill, physicians would want to understand their goals and health care wishes. Without prompts from artificial intelligence machines, physicians might be far less likely to discuss end of life wishes with some patients.

It can be hard for physicians to prioritize, especially when it comes to talking to their patients about end-of-life care. And timing is important. If physicians put off talking with their patients about their wishes, they might not be able to. Patients can lose their mental acumen and their ability to share their health care wishes.

Of course, with artificial intelligence, ethical questions are at play. For example, how much should doctors be told about their patients. If artificial intelligence suggests a patient will die in three months, does the doctor need to know that? Should the patient know? What if the doctor disagrees with the artificial intelligence prediction?

Until the accuracy of artificial intelligence machines improves–they are now no better than 45 percent accurate-most physicians will not be inclined to use them. Moreover, these machines predict likelihood of death, not who is most likely to benefit from advance care planning. But, inevitably, there will come a time when many physicians rely heavily on artificial intelligence for their treatment decisions, perhaps for the good and perhaps not.

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