A recent study by Oxford university estimated that 47% of jobs will be replaced by technology by 2033. In another story new technology using AI has the ability to diagnose faster and with equal accuracy than a Radiologist. This got me thinking….how would these advances impact dietitians? In fact, I had already been asked this question at a conference I spoke at, and was at the time quite taken aback that someone would even think of that, but of course I am biased.
The nutritional science field developed and advanced rapidly, and we must be living in the most exciting times right now where we understand more and better technologies have made it possible to make new discoveries fast. We know that personalised advice leads to better adherence, improved motivation and better understanding as it applies to the individual, the client, the patient. Whilst this advice can be delivered in various ways through clinic visits, video conferencing, telephone calls, not many governments are reimbursing this service or just cover a couple of visits when we know that behaviour change is a major task that requires more than just a couple of sessions. Prevention doesn´t by far enjoy the same amount of government expenditure as disease management.
Whilst I think it would be incredibly time-saving to have the data collection done for you, and different data-points synthesized in an easy to read and visible format, I doubt that a machine alone will be able to pick up the nuances, the undertones, the “in-between the lines” comments
that so many trained professionals such as dietitians can pick out quickly during a consultation. One example springs to mind, when I was still working in the hospital, a patient was referred for weight loss to improve their clinical condition….seems normal right? but within minutes I picked up that there was something not quite right. On the usual questioning, lifestyle factors were unmasked that led to a completely different avenue of further questioning which opened up a huge can of worms, completely throwing the original referral on its head. Nobody could have predicted that. If hypothetically a machine used the classic profile and data collection, that crucial piece of evidence which essentially determined the rest of the treatment course would not have been uncovered, or I really doubt it. The human element is necessary, specialist training is crucial, and it is for that reason that I don´t think the dietetic profession will be eradicated. People want to talk, people need confirmation, people want to be heard, people are people, we are not machines.
And so whilst I am really excited at the prospect and potential of AI technologies such as Babylon and Buoy, there will still be a demand for the expert waiting in the background to make sure that we listen carefully and understand what really drives behaviour and behaviour change. Maybe I´m too optimistic, but we need to learn to work with the technology not against it or fear it.
I´d like to hear from you, do you think dietetics will be eradicated?
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Mariette Abrahams is a nutrition business consultant in the personalised nutrition industry. She currently consults with businesses in the digital health, food and education industry to provide NPD support and technical expertise.