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Use of AI in Healthcare

Michael Hershey
Graduate Assistant, College of Liberal Arts

“We are workers, not master builders, ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own” – The Romero Prayer

Paul ScherzA solemn opening prayer by Associate Professor of Sociology and Director of Mission Initiatives Layton Field, Ph.D., began the 2024 Spring Ducharme Lecture on March 13. Paul Scherz, Ph.D., associate professor of religious studies at the University of Virginia, delivered the talk, which tackled the topic of artificial intelligence (AI) in healthcare.

Catholic Social Teaching has a particular emphasis on stewardship of the world and of the body. Healthcare goes hand in hand with this philosophy, especially the tenet of preferential option for the poor. In the United States alone, healthcare takes the efforts of hundreds of thousands of people and nearly $1 trillion in resources. In response to the call to care for the poor, one in seven patients in America are treated at Catholic hospitals. Could artificial intelligence be the key to enhancing care and expanding this mission? Perhaps, but with the utmost caution, suggested Scherz.

The primary question is where to apply AI in healthcare. AI might be used as a resource to automatically complete routine tasks like billing. However, Scherz cautions that predictive analytics should be avoided due to the flawed data that AI has been trained on. He also warned against any attempt to replace interaction with a medical professional with AI.

Scherz explained that a hospital used an AI model to predict patient health and thus determine hospital funding. That model showed that a White patient needed fewer health conditions to be at the same liability to a hospital as a Black patient. Unfortunately, editing models to avoid bias has proven to be difficult, as Google discovered when trying to promote diversity in its AI image generator, Gemini.

AI chatbots could undermine patient-doctor relationships; for example, having an AI assist by taking notes prevents the doctor from focusing on the patient and strengthening the doctor-patient relationship. The downsides of AI “therapists” and AI's inability to effectively provide psychological care were also noted. Some are more open to therapy with AI because it removes the social anxiety of opening up to another person. However, will it get people the care they need or is it amplifying a problem of distrust and isolation?

“We are workers, not master builders,” noted Scherz. The best we can do is take new developments day by day, always keeping the dignity of the patients and their care providers at the forefront.

The biannual Ducharme Lecture Series, named for Mount Professor Emeritus of English Robert Ducharme, fosters discussions in fields related to the humanities and liberal arts. The series was founded and is funded by Raphael Della Ratta, C’92.

Michael Hershey
Graduate Assistant, College of Liberal Arts