NEW YORK—John Whyte, MD, MPH, WebMD’s chief medical officer and one of the most influential voices in the health sector, discussed how patients are learning to trust chatbots, how doctors are integrating generative AI into their practices, the need for transparency and other practical aspects of AI implementation. During a session titled, “How AI Is Reshaping the Future of Health Care,” Dr. Whyte said, “AI is a work in progress, and we have just started to scratch the surface of how we can use AI to improve health care and vision care outcomes.”

WebMD’s John Whyte, MD, called on the medical and optical communities to take on a leadership role in identifying AI technologies and processes that will work in the health care sector.

Dr. Whyte described some of the computing and artificial intelligence milestones, starting with the analog era of the 1940s-1960s, when the first primitive computers performed specific calculations and accelerated basic problem solving. The 1960s-1980s were the experimental era, when the emergence of integrated circuits and mainframe computers allowed for flexible programming and the demonstration of the first natural language processing systems.

The knowledge era of the 1980s-2000s was known for expert systems, mimicking human expertise and decision-making that paved the transition to modern machine learning techniques. And finally, the modern era, the 2010s to the present, saw big changes as commoditization of computing, availability of big data, and the development of neural networks, deep learning and machine learning techniques, large language models and generative AI ushered in the modern AI revolution.

Dr. Whyte cited examples of AI, ranging from IBM’s Watson artificial intelligence platform outperforming top “Jeopardy” contestants in 2010 to today’s self-service tools, such as ChatGPT and MidJourney, that have given consumers access to basic generative AI capabilities.

He said, “AI has provided us with the opportunity to impact the health care and vision care journeys.” Dr. Whyte observed that according to a recent White House executive order on AI and health care, “there will be no new regulations on the horizon.” He called on the medical and optical communities to take on a leadership role in identifying AI technologies and processes that will work in the health care sector. “We need a Sherpa to take the lead on how we can best use AI,” he said.

“The patient experience is changing as people use the internet to research their conditions online before they even get to a doctor’s office. The power of generative AI is changing the process and the doctor-patient relationship,” he said.

He pointed out that when it comes to the health care sector, AI is being used in many ways, including:

• To direct patients to the right specialists.

• To provide the appropriate triage procedures, diagnosis and treatments for patients.

• To help with appointment follow-ups and scheduling.

• To provide personalized care and simplify communications.

Dr. Whyte encouraged the audience to “engage with the AI technology, download the apps and try them out. Now is not the time to take a wait and see attitude.”

He concluded, “The opportunity to impact the relationship between health care and AI is now. The AI technology is moving quickly, and the tools will only get better.”