Doctors will have to be more like actors as A.I. gains momentum: Zocdoc CEO

  • Artificial intelligence will replace a lot of analytical tasks, leaving doctors with the job of listening and asking the right questions.
  • Zocdoc offers a service that is akin to OpenTable for doctors.
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Zocdoc CEO Oliver Kharraz fully expects machine learning to take over many clinical functions. For doctors, that means emotional intelligence is going to become increasingly important.

"Doctors in the future will come from the same pool as actors," said Kharraz, in an interview on Thursday at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare conference in San Francisco. Zocdoc's web-based software lets consumers book medical appointments online.

Kharraz, who is also a doctor by training, said there's going to be a shift in the type of personalities attracted to medicine as machines start doing things like diagnosing medical conditions by analyzing scans.

To be successful, doctors are going to need empathy and an ability to listen. He gave an example of a case study he learned from a colleague involving a patient who presented with pneumonia. A battery of tests didn't reveal the root cause of the problem.

After spending time with the patient, the doctor figured out that the person was often swallowing gum but had no gag reflex, and the gum was getting trapped in the lungs. A computer would not have been able to figure that out, Kharraz said.

"Machine learning is great for repetitive things that require large data-sets," he said.

Kharraz is far from the only technologist to suggest that machine learning will result in sweeping changes to the medical sector. Venture capitalist Vinod Khosla predicted that radiologists will be obsolete within five years. Analysts have projected that the market for artificial intelligence tools in health care will exceed $10 billion by 2024.

Zocdoc, which was valued at $1.8 billion in its last venture funding round in August 2015, said last year that it's reached 6 million users.