Is it time to physicians learn to code?

The question of one of them

This week, I attended to a lecture about the role of artificial intelligence in medicine. I was one of the many physicians in the audience. Open mic time for questions and, otherwise the fellow colleagues, who were asking very specific health-related questions, I wish I could have more discussion about AI per se. Physicians absorb the final product in their practices but they don’t get involved in its development. The obvious question that popped in my head was “is it time for physicians learn to code?”

Since I’m living between the technological and medical world, my perspective changed a lot. If I have attended to the same lecture three years ago, I would’ve had the same doubts the audience had. Now, I want to know more about AI behind the software, the core of the software and other issues like these, since I’ve been studying software engineering.

The lecture was interested because it presented me new concepts, like augmented intelligence. I am talking about IBM Watson Health, a software that works as an information search engine related to a specific cancer type and suggests the best treatment options, using cognitive computation. Oncological application was the main presentation point of the lecture. The speaker was also a physician and his explanations about the daily basis use of Watson Health were very sharp and objective.

I was still lacking more explanations about the “dark side of the Moon”. Of course, IBM wouldn’t tell me its secrets (no matter how green my eyes are) but what wasn’t said in the lecture, I’ve found watching an interview with IBM Brazilian engineers.

Of over more than 200 physicians in the hospital clinical staff, I know one (1, uno, um) who thinks tech as I do and we call ourselves “The ICU Geek Division”. That day, in a room full of people, I was the only one thinking differently. It shouldn’t have to be like this. Shouldn’t they get more involved and ask other questions either? Is it time to physicians learn to code? Or anything in this path?

If you take your car to a mechanic and you know nothing about mechanics, the guy can say anything to you and you have to accept it, because you just cannot argue against him, right?

This is the world of many physicians when it comes to technology. They scratch the surface but they don’t dive deep into it. So many devices, apps, software are handled for them. They are trained to use them and, mostly, they don’t use them in full potential, what would be very different if they engaged in their development.

Actually, I risk myself going further and saying that lots of them resist to interact with technology in this way, considering medical technology or eHealth as the hardware they deal with(like the newest invasive hemodynamic monitoring, CT scan last launch, portable ultrasound machine). They don’t understand that if their vision about technology becomes broader, their personal experience as health professionals will improve too.

Physicians don’t need to be programmers and write codes frantically. Software developers and engineers do that with perfection! But we must have a little knowledge about technology so we don’t stand as mere observers of medical technological development. We’ve gotta take the car to the mechanic and know how to argue against if it’s necessary, standing for our opinions, because we know how our patients will respond. How do you do that? Speaking the same language! We already have the same objective of health technology developers: find ways to improve people’s lives. But at the end of the day, we are the one who may have bad news to give…

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