[Econ Talk] Eric Topol on Deep Medicine

Eric Topol on Deep Medicine

24/06/2019 by EconTalk: Russ Roberts

Web player: http://podplayer.net/?id=74236840
Episode: http://files.libertyfund.org/econtalk/y2019/Topolmedicine.mp3

Cardiologist and author Eric Topol talks about his book Deep Medicine with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Topol argues that doctors spend too little face-to-face time with patients, and the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning is a chance to emphasize the human side of medicine and to expand the power of human connection in healing. Topol surveys the current landscape of the application of technology to health care showing where its promise has been overstated and where it is having the most impact. The conversation includes a discussion of the placebo effect and the importance of the human touch in medicine.

Start Date: 2019-09-03

Finish Date: 2019-09-05


  • My fundamental problem with this episode is Topol’s approach. He goes “Well, this is the terrible way in which healthcare works nowadays with doctors giving too little time to patients. This is the state of artificial intelligence, which could be fantastic at diagnosing patients, and freeing up time for doctors to be more personally involved with patients instead of just assembly line processing them.” And then he makes no case for how we will get from point A to point B, instead of a potential point C which he acknowledges, which is that hospitals will use the time saved to just put even more patients on the assembly line.
  • The rant above may have been brought about by listening to Flash Forward for two years or more, and absorbing Rose Eveleth’s warnings that economics and society will always end up taking technology to places other than the hype makes out.
  • Topol’s approach also reminded me of an early Richard Dawkins essay in which Dawkins admired one of his school teachers (and schooling) and lamented that modern day education is all about teaching to tests; and how all education should be what Dawkins had. All this, while ignoring that a) tests are necessary; b) the kind of personalised education Dawkins wants everybody to get would require diverting far more people into education (which might not be a bad thing, there’s just no explanation of how to get there), c) every kid is not Dawkins who will benefit from that kind of attention. Topol’s “Things were so great in the past when doctors paid attention” is on similar lines.
  • And I’m not even convinced that things were that great in the past. Maybe 10% of the population got super personalised care and 90% got nothing; and now 90% of people get cursory care, 5% pay for super personalised care, and 5% still get nothing.
  • Topol talking about doctors’ unions focusing on protecting doctors instead of promoting care made me think that Russ Roberts would bring up Mancur Olson, but he didn’t.
  • The bit about infections picked up at hospitals, and how hospitals are dangerous places; made me think of the prison problem – if you put a criminal in prison, he gets to interact with lots of other criminals, and they teach each other new criminal methods and opportunities.


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