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OpenAI’s ChatGPT ‘a breakthrough’ for health care, medical futurist says

Bertalan Meskó, medical futurist and director of The Medical Futurist Institute, joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss health care’s dependence on technology, health care stocks, and the outlook for technology in the health care industry.

Video transcript

[AUDIO LOGO]

- Well, one trend that we're watching is big tech's push into that health care space. Big name players such as Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft all making their way into the sector.

Now Amazon being the most recent to make moves with the launch of its prescription drug discount program, Rxpass. The service is available to Prime members for a price tag of $5 a month to access over 50 shippable prescription medications.

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Now this as Amazon faces off against Alphabet and Microsoft in the race to control the health care cloud market, while Apple looks to build out its health division, as well. Now, of course, 2022 saw a number of major non-healthcare players such as Amazon stepping in as primary care providers.

So how will the landscape shift in the years to come? Here to discuss is Dr. Bertalan Meskó, Director of the Medical Futurist Institute. Good to see you. So a lot of people have been seeing these sort of incremental moves that big tech has been making into this space. But you say in your newsletter that you don't expect big tech to take over the entire industry but they will profoundly change the landscape. How so?

BERTALAN MESKO: Absolutely. Thank you for having me. I think it has been quite exciting to watch how technology giants are trying to get into the health care business because, let's be clear, health care has been becoming more and more technology-dependent.

Not just it's almost impossible, practically, today to practice medicine without the use of advanced technologies but even consumers, millions of patients worldwide, started using a range of technologies from variable health sensors to portable diagnostic devices, remote care platforms, at home lab tests, and I'm not even talking about artificial intelligence-based tools yet.

So it's understandable that technology companies want to get into the health care business. But for many years it just seemed that they wanted to contribute to delivery of health care to the practice of medicine by bringing technological products to the market that they have a quite good track record at producing.

But now it seems they want to provide health care. And it's absolutely different, providing health care. The lives of patients are at stake. There are really strict, really strong regulations. It requires a lot of expertise and huge amounts of money to get into the health care business by being able to bring those products into the market while also proving that those products are safe and efficient.

- So then, what are some of the ways that you're seeing? I know we've talked about primary care physicians as a way. And what are some of the ways you think big tech is going to start making more of its foray or expand in this space?

BERTALAN MESKO: It seems that every tech company is interested in those fields where they have maybe the strongest features. Like Microsoft is really good at cloud computing. So when it comes to electronic medical records, they have a good chance for diving into that part.

Even the parent company of TikTok or ByteDance just purchased one of the largest hospital chains in China. And it seems that they want to provide health care in that country for now.

Amazon is great at their global digital supply chain. So they focus on pharmacies. And that's why they have made those acquisitions.

Google is amazing at doing research in artificial intelligence. So now they started publishing research papers about how to use their AI-based tools for drug design, or diagnostics, or supporting medical decision-making. So they focus on what makes them individually unique technology companies.

- And, of course, we have to talk AI, especially when we talk about generative AI as well, although people talk about GPT and some of those same style of technology. How do you see the opportunities in pitfalls, though, that come with introducing this sort of technology?

BERTALAN MESKO: I think it's simple to say that it's almost endless. Of course, it's a bit more complicated than that. But what the introduction of ChatGPT meant to the health care community was, I think it meant a breakthrough that, finally, AI is not just for researchers or inventors working in development or silos, but it's for everyone.

And I think thousands of physicians started using ChatGPT for getting ideas about how to solve certain health care-based problems. I know for a fact that some pharma company researchers started using that to get some meaningful outcome of the huge amounts of data they are able to use while trying to find new drug targets that could get into clinical trials.

And, of course, ChatGPT is not a tool, as even described by the company releasing that open API that could be used for such purposes. But we can use tools like that to get a new idea, to get a sense of the data that we have been analyzing for so long. And I think that's just one point of the breakthrough technology, was ChatGPT.

But what comes next would be a range of other ideas, using AI for drug repurposing, using AI for finding drug targets in shorter and less expensive clinical trials, using AI based tools to support medical decision making. Just imagine that, in oncology, how amazing it would be to get access to a huge amounts of studies without physicians reading all of them but get the right amount of pieces of information from each study so they can make better decisions about individual patient's treatment plans.

These are just four or five examples out of the-- I think --dozens that are on the market today.

And what we need for that to be able to really implement this breakthrough technology is a conscious way of adopting it, knowing the dangers but knowing enough about what it's capable of doing, what it's capable of in terms of scientific understanding, that we could bring these AI-based products to the market as soon as possible because regulators finally understand how to regulate the technology that's really challenging and competitive right now.

- And I want to talk about this space because on one hand, you're going to have the regulators. You have existing health care professionals who perhaps might not be on board with this. How is the medical community reacting to this? And what eyes are regulators having on this space?

- Well, the first question every physician asks these days is whether AI can replace me in my job. And I think while that's a fair question to ask from the cultural standpoint, technologically, it has no ground because AI is not capable of replacing physicians. AI is amazing at doing repetitive and/or database tasks but everything else from empathy to creativity, intuition, compassion, all these things, I think all these tasks will be done by human physicians even decades from now.

However we know how unsustainable health care has been coming over the last one-two decades. And we also know that it's almost impossible to check all the data, the clinical trials, the studies, the information, getting into the eyesight of physicians.

Therefore, I think we very much need the help and support from automation. And for that, medical associations like the American Medical Association have been publishing reports and guidelines about the explainable AI phenomenon, meaning this is the package of knowledge you, as a physician, need to know about this amazing technology, the definitions, the levels, the dangers, all these.

So these associations have been trying to do their job by preparing the health care workforce. But as you mentioned, policymakers and regulators have an even-- maybe if I can say --a harder job to do here because regulating the medical technology like before, a new ultrasound device, it was one thing. We had a good framework for that.

The regulators understood the safety implications, the efficiency of that particular technology. And they could make a decision-- a conscious one --whether releasing it to the public or not.

But now, when it comes to the so-called adaptive artificial intelligence-based algorithms, that's a different scenario because even if you approve a technological product today, that algorithm will start making decisions from tomorrow. And with every single decision, the algorithm will change. That's the whole essence of machine learning-based methods.

So how do you regulate the technology that will change with its use, even thousands of times every single day? I think that's the regulatory challenge of the 21st century.

- That's tough when we already see regulators trying to keep up with technology, but one that can sort of self-evolve, a whole different ball game, indeed. Fantastic stuff there, Dr. Bertalan Meskó there, Director of the Medical Futures Institute. Thank you for joining me in this morning.