AI's exciting, foreboding potential in spine surgery


Artificial intelligence is going to have many positives in spine surgery and healthcare, but leaders should still understand its risks, Scott Blumenthal, MD, said.

Dr. Blumenthal, of the Texas Back Institute in Plano, joined the "Becker's Spine and Orthopedic Podcast" to discuss his outlook on AI and how healthcare leaders can be more effective in the future.

Listen to the full conversation here.

Question: Is there anything that is exciting you right now or anything that's making you nervous, whether it's something you're personally working on or anything that you're seeing in the media?

Dr. Scott Blumenthal: What's the most exciting thing and the thing that's most foreboding in the future of healthcare is artificial intelligence. I think that if it's well-harnessed and well-utilized, it can decrease the amount of errors in medicine. It can increase the accuracy of diagnoses and in certain treatments that are more numerically based. Obviously it can never substitute for judgment or for some surgical techniques that can't utilize robotics or artificial intelligence. I think they'll always be that human element.

What makes me nervous about it is I think that data can sometimes — and we've seen it in the past — be used to take the decision-making aspect out of physicians' hands and utilized by the payers to optimize their results which is economical versus what we think is what's best for the patient. Be careful what you ask for … because the payers are going to utilize AI also and tell you why you can't treat a patient individually when it comes down to big data. In fact, most of our patients fall into the gray zone, not into something that can fit an algorithm. So that's why I think I'm excited about it but there's always got to be that out for an individual.

Q: What do most effective healthcare leaders need in order to be successful in the next two to three years?

SB: I have a daughter that's completing her residency, and what they did in med school that we didn't is understanding all the stakeholders and all the factors that go into it. In other words community health issues, and artificial intelligence, how to understand research and how to interpret and avoid misinterpretation of papers and research and journals, understanding the different payer systems, understanding your community and how the demographics are different from rural medicine versus urban medicine and things like that. 

They'll be much more facile than understanding the oncoming artificial intelligence that we're all going to be succumbing to whatever extent our specialty is infiltrated. But the leaders are going to have to understand everything and not just be the best surgeon in the world, but understand the implications to global health and economics.

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