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Artificial intelligence and machine learning are already transforming the delivery of healthcare, including within occupational health. The good news, argues Dr Julian Eyears, is this revolution is unlikely to put practitioners out of a job. Do, however, expect OH’s role, remit and (more positively) reach to change as a result.
Machine learning is already replacing white collar jobs. So will occupational health doctors and nurses be out of a job anytime soon?
The good news: this is unlikely. When we look at history, technology has changed doctors’ jobs but never put doctors out of work.
For example, in the 1980s, newspapers predicted that the new invention of the CT scanner would make doctors redundant because no fancy tools (such as stethoscopes) would be needed to see inside the body. The eventual reality was CT allowed doctors to do more. That meant the public wanted more and more CT scanners and radiologists to interpret their images.
‘Artificial intelligence’ (AI) is a very general term given to the emulation of human intelligence using computers. ‘Machine learning’ is a form of AI that typically uses a computer model of a primate brain and teaches that brain by providing example problems and solutions.
The computer taught in this manner can quickly exceed the expertise and judgement of an individual human because its learning is drawn from the experience and expertise of many humans.
Thus, the computer can, for example, copy and store the collective expertise of many senior medical consultants by being shown hundreds of chest radiographs, spirographs or audiograms. Computers are able to read handwriting and can, for example too, produce a medical summary of handwritten notes.
Technological change ‘inevitable’
It is inevitable that AI and machine learning will change what we do within occupational health. In some cases the technologies will thr