According to an article published in the AMA Journal of Ethics, recent advances in artificial intelligence (AI) technology should result in an overhaul of medical school curricula to incorporate the effective use of AI, communication, and empathy.
The article authors cited the recent focus on the deteriorating mental health of medical students, highlighting the demanding learning environment that contributes to learners’ poor mental health. The current information overload crisis has resulted in the need for physicians to manage and use AI applications that aggregate data collaboratively. Based on this, the researchers recommend that medical education be reformed to focus on knowledge management, including effective use of AI technology.
In the near future, the skills required of practicing physicians will involve collaborating with AI applications that manage data. The areas of precision and personalized medicine benefit specifically from the use of AI, which can predict whether or not a treatment will work for a particular subgroup of patients with a particular disease. As this method of clinical decision making becomes more common among practicing physicians, physicians will have to adapt to these changes and become skilled in understanding and explaining the results of these data to patients. Current medical education does not prepare them for this future.
Specifically, physicians will need to learn how to present these findings to their patients with sensitivity, communicating in an ethical way that lends a human element to the use of AI. Therefore, the researchers stress that physicians must develop good communication skills to manage clinical encounters skillfully so that they result in optimal diagnosis. A key part of this is ethics, ensuring that physicians respond to patients’ symptoms and offer compassion while discussing subjects such as diagnoses and therapies with patients. The investigators say that using AI applications to take on the burden of some clinical and biomedical knowledge gathering may increase opportunities for physicians to learn and practice empathy in a curricular space.
The researchers argued for medical education reform so that physicians can use and manage AI skillfully as they practice. The authors advocated for radical changes to current curricula, citing the speed of technologic innovation as a detriment to students, as some faculty may be behind their students in terms of technology skills. To reform medical education while minimizing the detriment to students’ mental health, the researchers said the curricula should focus on knowledge capture as opposed to retention, management of AI, understanding of probabilities and how they can inform clinical decision making, and cultivating empathy and compassion for patients.
Although the researchers recognize that there are fundamental barriers to medical education reform, they remain optimistic that changes could be made. This would likely mean an overhaul of the current framework of medical education, which would be a long and complex process. However, the researchers maintain that by embracing AI, some of the stress on medical students could be removed, leading to improvements in students’ mental health and an increased ability to communicate compassionately with patients.
Wartman SA, Combs CD. Reimagining medical education in the age of AI. AMA J Ethics. 2019;21(2):E146-E152.