A recent study by Oxford University estimated that 47% of jobs will be replaced by technology by 2033. In another story, new technology using artificial intelligence (AI) has the ability to diagnose faster and with equal accuracy to a radiologist. This got me thinking: how would these advances impact dietitians? In fact, I had already been asked this question at a conference where I spoke and was quite taken aback that someone would even think of that, but of course, I am biased.
The nutritional science field has developed and advanced rapidly, and we must be living in the most exciting times right now where we understand more and better technologies and have made it possible to make new discoveries fast. We know that personalized advice leads to better adherence, improved motivation, and a better understanding as it applies to the individual, the client, and the patient. Though this advice can be delivered in various ways through clinic visits, video conferencing, and telephone calls, not many governments are reimbursing this service, or they cover a couple of visits when we know that behavior change is a major task that requires more than just a couple of sessions. Prevention doesn't enjoy the same amount of government expenditure as disease management.
Still, 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, and the “between the lines” comments that so many trained professionals, such as dietitians, can pick out quickly during a consultation.
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 realized that there was something not quite right. During 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 doubtfully have been uncovered. 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, and we are not machines.
Though I am really excited at the prospect and potential of AI technologies such as Babylon and Boyd, 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 behavior and behavior change. Maybe I'm too optimistic, but we need to learn to work with the technology not against it or fear it.
Mariette is an MBA, RD personalized nutrition business consultant & nutritionist working with small & medium sized companies in digital health, food, and biotechnology to build and grow brands that promote health and wellness.