You can call me HAL9000...
Published Apr 02 2020 08:56 AM 2,298 Views

This is not your parents' 2001 AI. Tom Lawry, National Director for Artificial Intelligence in Health & Life Sciences busts myths about AI and HR. 


Claire: You're watching the Microsoft US Health and Life sciences Confessions of health geeks podcast. A show that offers industry insight from the health geeks and data freaks of the US health and life sciences industry team. I’m your host, Claire Bonaci. Today we are going to talk about AI and HR with Tom Lawry, our National Director for AI in health and life sciences, discussing his new book AI in Health.

This is episode 2 of our AI in health and life sciences series. Let's dig in and discover how AI can empower the workforce, and let's put the myth of creepy robots to rest.

Tom: Thanks Claire, great to be here again.  

Claire: Yes.  Yeah Episode 2. So I'm looking forward to it. Thanks so much. So people often voice fear that AI will eliminate their jobs. And we do know that AI will automate about 30% of manual processes. How do you see AI actually impacting jobs and altering careers in the health sector?  

Tom: Well, again another great question. It's always interesting to me where everyone is focused on the technology and yet true change and transformation is going to have huge impacts on the way we work. So, I guess I'd start it by just thinking about how we as humans have often been conditioned to kinda be a little leery of smart machines. Anyone that ever watched the movie The Matrix remembers agent Smith that creepy sentient that's going to somehow ruin the world for humans. Or Hal in 2001 Space Odyssey. In film, in fictional literature we've kind of been taught not to trust it. So along comes AI for real in a workplace setting. So my quick advice is always first and foremost to recognize AI when done right, and the operative is when done right; is going to be a positive force for change. It's going to empower clinicians, consumers and others to achieve more which is what we often talk about with reform and this is actually a way in which it is going to come about.  

The second most important thing to understand in doing that is in order to drive transformation a positive change, it is going to cause some types of workforce disruption. I mean, just think about in order to do work better and get to that transformational stage, it means we all have to look at how we're going to work differently. That alone is going to cause disruption, so we should own that. And then the third and final point that I always encourage everyone to think about is simply, whether you're just starting your career, your midterm millennial, or your clinician on the downside of your practice thinking about retirement; the most important thing to understand about AI is that only drives value by doing one of two things in the workplace. It either automates the way you work or augments the way you work. But for the most part in Healthcare, it means you know, the way in which you work will change, and hopefully again, done right, is going to change for the better.  

Claire: That makes a lot of sense and I do like that you point out that it will affect everyone in their career, whether you are new in the market, or kind of in that middle career. So, it does affect everyone and it is more for the good than it is for the bad. So. As you’ve said this is more of a market challenge and as employers and employees really need to be prepared for the increase in technology in their everyday job functions. So how can organizations actually anticipate AI changing the workforce or changing how people work? 

Tom: Well, again, I'd start by saying AI is not about technology. AI is about a technology that helps provide and drive transformation. So that's what leaders do. You know I have the opportunity to work with a number of organizations who are pursuing AI in an enterprise wide level. And the thing I find among leaders who were doing it well is they start with the mindset that you have a choice in how you deploy AI. You're either going to use it to empower or divide your workforce. And some of that's how you plan , some of that's how you communicate about what it is you're doing and why you're doing it. But again, I think there's that divide of you're either going to empower or divide your workforce based on how you're doing it. The next thing that I always like to look at is how do you empower your workers and create a culture? It really is in words and actions, then moving on to really adopt a people first mindset and strategy and how you're planning to deploy and applying this technology. There's a great study by Emphasis AI where they interviewed leaders who have actually gone through AI driven transformation on their organizations, and they were asked what's the number one barrier for success?  Number one with a bullet was the fear of employees and how that would change their work. So, getting out ahead of that as leaders is going to go a long way to really drive the kind of value we're looking for.  

Claire: And I guess that's where the HR planning comes into play to really make it more of a people first strategy.  

Tom: Yeah, what’s really interesting about that Claire, is again, I have the opportunity and privilege of working with large health systems, health organizations on their AI  plans. And many times, there was a steering committee, there’s a team that’s of driving this. And it's always interesting to me, and when I asked the question, I get funny looks of:  Well, where's your HR leaders as part of your team and plan? Because sooner or later, once you move beyond those pilots and POC’s for machine learning and other things that are truly trying to do this at scale again, the value is going to come from changing the way people work from improving those clinical and operational workflows. And that brings us right back to, you know, the value of every employee who's working in that organization. So I mean, my best advice is, it's always that when AI meets HR conversations, that I love having, and its interesting to me how many organizations really aren’t at the level yet.  

Claire: So, in your opinion, what can employees and organizations do proactively to try to skill up or reskill their workforce?  For example, if I'm on the front lines, what can I do today to either add to my skill set or to put me in the best position to, you know, work on future innovation.  

Tom: Yeah, well I I think if you're looking at it from the perspective you're a clinician, your employee in a healthcare related organization. I guess the first thing is don't be afraid of it. You can either choose to understand it, put energy into understanding it, and leaning into it, or you can kind of push it off and hope it goes away. Which it won't. The ability to take, to do an assessment of what is it that you do, whether you’re a clinician or whether you’re revenue cycle specialist in a hospital, what are the types of work you’re doing, what are the things that if you could automate or augment would make you better at whatever you do? And whatever that looks like your ability, your ability to start leaning into understanding how to apply AI to make that process better, I believe is actually going to put you ahead when it comes to either job security for where you are, or the ability to be very attractive to be recruited by someone else who has that HR plan saying ‘We want to be bringing together those people who are going to be able to operate in a smart and intelligent health environment.  

Claire:   As we close, what is one myth about AI that you can bust for our listeners?   

Tom: Myth busting. You know, probably the biggest for me comes back to how we started the conversation around this thing where machines versus humans. It’s amazing to me how many times I see a video, a post, an article about AI in healthcare and they visualize with the  creepy Robot and there are implying that somehow in the future AI is going to bring us to the point where robots are in control, care is impersonal. And to me that is a myth that needs to be dispelled, and it's also something that when I see that to me it says there's someone that really doesn't understand the power of AI,  and again done right, It really is going to come back to how we empower our clinicians in our workers. And it's not about replacing them, but it's about giving them better tools and letting them do what they do best. So that's the one I'd love to see. I'd love to no longer see creepy robots pictured in care settings.  

Claire: Great! Well I love you that you even mentioned empowerment to begin with. So thank you so much Tom, for joining us this time. And I'm really looking forward next month.   

Tom: Thanks, Claire. Take care.  

Claire: Thank you all for watching. To purchase Toms book, visit  

We look forward to continuing the AI and health series next month. Please feel free to leave us questions or comments below and check back soon for more content from the HLS industry team. 


To purchase AI in Health

Tom Lawry, Natl Director Artifical Intelligence 

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