Physicians expect almost one-third of their job to be automated by 2040, Stanford Medicine report finds

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Physicians, residents and medical schools all expect their jobs to change via digital technology and data. (Sergey Tinyakov/GettyImages)

Doctors say digital technology and data are driving change that will create a different world of medicine in the next couple of decades, a new report from Stanford Medicine finds.

In a survey, physicians, residents and medical students say they expect almost a third of their current duties could be automated in 20 years. And doctors are preparing for that very different healthcare future now, according to the report (PDF).

Nearly half of physicians (73%) and most medical students (73%) are seeking additional training in areas such as advanced statistics, genetic counseling, population health and coding. One-third are studying artificial intelligence, according to the national survey of more than 700 physicians, residents and medical students commissioned by Stanford Medicine to understand how changing trends will reach the doctor’s office and shape patient care.

"We found that current and future physicians are not only open to new technologies but are actively seeking training in subjects such as data science to enhance care for their patients," said Lloyd Minor, M.D., dean of the Stanford University School of Medicine, in a statement.

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"We are encouraged by these findings and the opportunity they present to improve patient outcomes. At the same time, we must be clear-eyed about the challenges that may stymie progress,” he said.

Key trends that are reshaping healthcare include a maturing digital health market, new health laws opening patient access to data and AI gaining regulatory traction for medical use.

And the jury’s still out when it comes to whether the private industry’s foray into healthcare—in the form of companies such as Amazon, Google and Apple— will solve problems.

Physicians, residents and students had mixed views about the impact these companies will have on healthcare, with 30% of students and residents and 21% of physicians still undecided. While patient outcomes are likely to improve, respondents are divided on whether physician effectiveness will improve and say physician job satisfaction will likely decrease, while healthcare costs likely increase.

Other findings include:

The value of data. The survey also showed that providers are heavy digital users and they believe patient data from wearables can be clinically valuable. Nearly half the survey respondents wear a health monitoring device, and most of them use the data to inform their personal healthcare decisions (71% of physicians, 60% of students and residents). A majority of students and residents (78%) and physicians (80%) say self-reported data from a patient’s health app would be clinically valuable in supporting their care. They also see value in data from consumer genetic testing reports.

Doctors aren’t prepared to implement innovations. However, most providers don’t believe the current generation of practitioners is ready for the data-driven future, even current medical students and residents. When asked to rate the effectiveness of their education to prepare them for these developments, only 18% of current medical students and residents surveyed said that their education was “very helpful.” And 44% of physicians surveyed said their education was either “not very helpful” or “not helpful at all.”

The report pointed to the need to modernize curriculum and training programs so current and future physicians can make the most of new technologies.

The ongoing struggle with medical practice burdens. And, no surprise, physicians and residents say they are struggling under medical practice burdens. Nearly 1 in 5 would change their career path if given the opportunity, citing poor work-life balance and administrative burdens as the top reasons to reconsider their decision.

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