Peter Lee, President of Microsoft Research, explains how AI is transforming every aspect of the medical industry, from research to diagnosis to how doctors communicate information. He also connects the dots to help listeners grasp how what he’s seeing in medicine connects with the larger business world: AI will totally transform every industry, aiding communication and data accessibility with the potential to create systems that are less siloed, less confusing, more thorough, more efficient, more secure, and even more empathetic.

Three big takeaways from the conversation:

  1. AI can help you with tasks that are very specific to your job, but Lee says that its greatest potential to help everyone across all fields is by giving them time back to do more valuable and high-level work. He has seen the value of this in healthcare: “Technologists will think, ’Oh, can we make an AI system look at radiological images? Can we get an AI system to pass the US medical licensing exam?’ All those things are good and important, but just a doctor being able to maintain eye contact and be present with the patient instead of typing on a laptop matters a whole lot.”

  2. “We always think about the human being prompting the AI system, but the AI system can oftentimes prompt the human,” Lee observes. His term for the way AI can nudge you with tips, advice, and reminders is “reverse prompting,” and he says it was extremely helpful to him personally when his father was ill. “The ability to give all the lab test results, all the notes, to GPT-4, explain the situation and explain that we’re going to have a 15-minute phone conversation with Dr. K, and just ask, ‘What would be the best two or three things to ask?’”

  3. Counterintuitively, AI can improve a doctor’s bedside manner. Lee says doctors are often so overtaxed that they either don’t have time to look up from their monitor during a consultation, or they’re logging a couple of hours of “pajama time” at night, writing up reports that they didn’t finish during the workday. “When you’re a busy doctor, you might not just take the time to, say, congratulate your patient on becoming a grandparent.” AI can remind you to include personal touches that make a huge difference in building connections. “One of the things they’re finding is that when AI writes the after-visit summary email to a patient, the patients are consistently rating those notes as more human than the notes written by the doctors themselves.”

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Here’s a transcript of the conversation

MOLLY WOOD: This is WorkLab, the podcast from Microsoft. I’m your host, Molly Wood. On WorkLab we hear from experts about the future of work, from how to use AI effectively to what it takes to thrive in our new world of work. 

PETER LEE: Can we make being a doctor, being a nurse, the kind of satisfying profession that allows people to help people, as opposed to do paperwork. It’ll be great for us to solve genomics with AI, to solve cancer with AI. But at the end of the day, if the one thing that we can accomplish is to have AI make a dent in the day-to-day worker satisfaction in healthcare, we’ll have really done the world a great service.