We live in an incredible time of rapid advances in artificial intelligence. Already, an AI-enabled device developed by a Franco-German-American team can do a better job than actual dermatologists do of detecting skin cancer in its early stages.
Two years ago, Chinese researchers developed an algorithm that can “diagnose prostate cancer as accurately as a pathologist,” freeing up valuable time once spent diagnosing patients for actually treating them.
In fields where medical data and images are already digitized, AI is making it easier and faster for doctors to diagnose life-threatening heart conditions, lung cancer, and even diabetic retinopathy:
Since there is plenty of good data available in these cases, algorithms are becoming just as good at diagnostics as the experts. The difference is: the algorithm can draw conclusions in a fraction of a second, and it can be reproduced inexpensively all over the world. Soon everyone, everywhere could have access to the same quality of top expert in radiology diagnostics, and for a low price.
This is amazing progress that essentially democratizes the talents of the best medical specialists in the world so that anyone will be able to afford their services, even if “only” virtually.
There’s another kind of artificial intelligence emerging in the medical field, albeit of dubious utility: TV news and internet doctors who believe they know what’s best for patients they’ve never treated or met, and whose medical records they’ve never even seen.
While useless, this new field has exploded since President Donald Trump revealed last week that he’d tested positive for the Wuhan virus and was hospitalized for COVID-19 symptoms.
Dr. Leana Wen, former president of Planned Parenthood and a regular CNN contributor, is one such possessor of artificial medical intelligence.
The briefings by @realDonaldTrump's physicians continue to be a deliberate exercise in obfuscation, insulting to the public & unbefitting the seriousness of the moment.
We still don't know answers to key Qs about his condition & when he was infected.https://t.co/f1vAiiE1pk
— Leana Wen, M.D. (@DrLeanaWen) October 4, 2020
She wrote on Saturday that “every first-year medical student knows that you can’t describe a patient’s condition without including the exact vital signs.” Wen expressed frustration about what Trump’s medical team didn’t say:
We heard that the president has no fever, but not what his temperature has been — and whether he’s fever-free because of fever-reducing drugs. We heard that he has an oxygen saturation of 96 percent — but not what it’s been throughout his illness. Was a low oxygen saturation part of the reason he was transferred to the hospital?
I’m guessing Wen must have missed that day of medical school when they talked about doctor/patient confidentiality.
White House physician Sean Conley revealed enough to assuage immediate fears, which, in conjunction with Trump’s hale-looking public appearances this weekend, is about all anyone is entitled to.
To be clear then, Wen isn’t making a medical diagnosis: She’s abusing her MD to give weight to her political opinions.
She isn’t the only one.
CNN’s chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta told Jake Tapper on his Sunday morning chattering-class show that Trump’s doctors “are hiding things.”
The conversation between Gupta and Tapper devolved almost instantly into a virtue-signaling contest in which every viewer was the loser.
Anchor Tapper said, “Some interesting comments from Commander Conley, who before this episode had an impeccable reputation. He was asked why he didn’t give all the information yesterday, and he said he was trying to, I’m quoting, trying to reflect the upbeat attitude of the team and not give any information that would steer the course of his illness. Is that what a physician is supposed to do?”
Gupta said, “No. I mean, you’ve got to be honest. You’ve got to be transparent—all these details matter.”
They’re also between the doctors and their patient, who in this case is the most powerful man in the world.
Tapper — who just had to remind viewers, “I am the son of a doctor and a nurse” — ought to know all that.
Dr. James P. Phillips is “Chief of Disaster Medicine, GWU Emergency Medicine,” and yet another CNN regular.
The good doctor would have you know that the president’s tweets (or lack thereof) are now a medical indicator.
I know it’s not a typical indicator of illness but I’m concerned the most telling “lab value” indicating the President’s health is the # of tweets in the last 24 hours. Almost zero. It’s unprecedented, particularly as the election nears. Be wary of mimics from his staff. #COVID19
— Dr. James P. Phillips, MD (@DrPhillipsMD) October 4, 2020
Hours later, Trump would beclown Dr. Phillips with one of his legendary tweetstorms.
If the artificially intelligent diagnosis provided on Sunday afternoon by Dr. Phillips is at all accurate, then by zero-dark-thirty Monday morning, Trump had recovered to being the healthiest and fittest president since Teddy Roosevelt was wrestling alligators on the White House lawn*.
If the president’s condition worsens, that’s our business to know. If it improves, that’s our business to know, too.
The actual details belong to Donald Trump and his medical team, and barring some scandal like medical mispractice or POTUS going AMA, that’s where they should stay.
*This never happened.