It’s now or never: Why family medicine physicians must finally embrace AI

AI’s impact on healthcare continues to grow, with specialties such as radiology and cardiology fully embracing the technology’s potential to modify workflows and improve patient outcomes. According to a new commentary, however, family medicine physicians have been slow to embrace this growing trend—and it’s time for them to step up and help shape the future of medicine.

The commentary, published in Family Medicine, was written by co-authors Winston Liaw, MD, and Ioannis A. Kakadiaris, PhD, both of the University of Houston. Liaw and Kakadiaris noted that journals related to family medicine have been far behind other specialties when it comes to AI research.

“As AI spreads, our participation is needed to shape this revolution,” they wrote. “Without our patient-centered orientation, AI has focused on delivering value to shareholders of technology companies rather than on problems that affect patients in our practices. Without our focus on value, AI has escalated healthcare costs and is available only to those with resources rather than those who would benefit the most. Without our focus on personal relationships, AI has further eroded face time by increasing the amount of time we spend interacting with computers.”

Without the input of family medicine physicians, Liaw and Kakadiaris explained, AI could follow a trajectory similar to electronic health records (EHRs), which ended up focusing on “the needs of administrators and EHR vendors” more than actually assisting clinicians with patient care. Another key point in the duo’s commentary was that is still plenty that physicians can do to make an impact. Reaching out to AI specialists, for instance, can help improve the design and implementation of these advanced algorithms. Sharing resources is another way to make a difference—your positive attitude toward collaboration could help research teams develop smarter AI models that result in more effective patient care.

Ultimately, the authors concluded, it’s crucial to remember that the rise of AI technology is something that can involve both computers and physicians—not just one or the other.

“As family physicians, we know that computers are not the most important tool in medicine—personal relationships are and always will be,” they wrote. “When it comes to executing complicated tasks, computers will outperform us, but our ability to establish and sustain these relationships, understand and manage their complexity, and use them to elicit and integrate preferences into medical decisions cannot be effectively replicated.”