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Medical students and junior doctors such as me often struggle to derive patient management plans from such a wealth of information, yet comprehensive management plans should consider all factors related to each patient in order to provide clear directions for holistic, feasible and individualized treatment. For this, IBM Watson’s speed and accurate analysis makes it an ideal partner for real doctors.

One question naturally follows. If these robot doctors are so good, will they replace human doctors? To me, the answer is obvious. A fundamental element of clinical medicine is human-to-human interaction. Despite the occasional shameful compromises taken in routine medical practice due to various limitations, we should never give up communicating with patients.

Another example comes from DeepMind − the institution behind AlphaGo, the AI machine that mastered the ancient art of Go. The company has invested heavily in healthcare technology and has already implemented pilot research programmes in radiation treatment planning at the National Health Service (NHS) in Britain. Radiotherapy planning requires a fine balance between controlling the cancer as far as possible while protecting nearby vital organs. This process involves many complex calculations and compromises. AI with machine learning fits this task nicely, greatly accelerating the process.

Clinical communication, especially breaking bad news, is a delicate art. It is unacceptable to give a diagnosis of cancer on the phone or by email. I can imagine how puzzled and emotional I would feel to be diagnosed with a terminal disease in such a way. Instead, one wants the support of another human being, a compassionate doctor with whom ideas and concerns can be shared.

Coming back to Hong Kong, we have a medical system historically related to the NHS, and facing similar challenges with an ageing population and a shortage of resources. If the pilot programmes in Britain turn out to be successful and economical, our services may also be enhanced, potentially releasing manpower from tedious data analysis for other clinical duties, reducing waiting time for patients and increasing the time available for consultations.

Even cutting-edge robotics cannot achieve this humane touch, although I have no doubt that AI will eventually surpass humans in many aspects of clinical medicine. AI may have a transitional role, saving us the time and effort needed for analysis, interpretation of investigation results and writing up reports. However, as long as human beings are the patients, I believe that human doctors will be irreplaceable. 

Further reading ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1356187/ medscape.com/viewarticle/875299 sabcs.org/Portals/SABCS2016/Documents/ SABCS-2016-Abstracts.pdf?v=1 ibm.com/watson/health/oncology-and-genomics/oncology/ ibm.com/watson/health/value-basedcare/watson-care-manager/

by Ars Electronica Flic.kr/p/9sFzd5

deepmind.com/applied/deepmind-health/research/

Benjamin Lui graduates from the University of Hong Kong this year to become an intern with the Hong Kong Hospital Authority. As an awardee of the HKFYG Innovation and Technology Scholarship Award Scheme, he did an exchange at the University of California at Berkeley and was mentored by prominent American immunologist and geneticist, Prof Bruce Beutler. 25

Profile for Youth Hong Kong

Yhk 9 2 looking forward  

Yhk 9 2 looking forward  

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