Can LLMs Ever Diagnose Diseases?


Jan 15, 2024

Medical disease diagnosis currently involves doctors having comprehensive discussions with patients to understand their symptoms and eliminate the least likely causes before performing medical tests and identifying diseases. Generic Large Language Models (LLMs) have been showing promise in the sector with their ability to communicate with people and gather data on their symptoms then perform advanced analytics to identify their most likely causes. LLMs are artificial intelligence (AI) models trained to process and generate texts and other content, with the capability of incorporating Natural Language Processing (NLP). LLMs have had the potential to make diagnoses for a while, but most have not specifically been trained in making them. However, domain-specific LLMs for the healthcare industry have been gaining a lot of popularity this year, leading people to raise questions about whether they are one day going to be capable of accurate medical diagnoses and perhaps even treatment recommendations.

LLM’s Current Disease Diagnosis Capabilities

While they are not ready to replace medical professionals any time soon, LLMs are already showing promise in the sector by bringing speed, accuracy, and data-driven insights to the diagnostic process. The current general trend in the medical sector is integrating LLMs into medical practices as assistive features that support the diagnostic process. They are being innovated for mental health assessments, precision medicine, and clinical decision support systems among so many others.

  1. Mental Health Assessments: LLMs are being explored to analyze patient conversations and identify signs of depression and anxiety. A study by MIT showed that an LLM could detect depression with an accuracy of 80% based on language patterns in spoken communication. 

  1. Clinical Decision Support Systems: LLMs are being integrated into clinical decision support systems (CDSS) to provide real-time guidance to healthcare professionals. These systems can analyze patient data, suggest potential diagnoses, and recommend treatment options, improving the speed and accuracy of clinical decision-making.

  1. Personalized Medicine: LLMs can analyze individual patient data, including genetic information, medical history, and lifestyle factors, to generate personalized risk assessments and treatment plans. This approach, known as precision medicine, has the potential to revolutionize healthcare by tailoring interventions to each patient's unique needs.

They are also being customized for analysis of medical literature, super fast extraction of specific crucial information from them, and providing summaries with key information.

LLMs are being promoted for skill building in many sectors, and the medical sector is one of them. Proper diagnostics require healthcare professionals to use updated medical research information. Some practitioners are using LLMs to learn, update and boost their skills in making diagnoses and performing newer forms of examinations.

Another trend is LLMs being incorporated into informal chatbots and virtual assistants to help patients and the general population gain general medical advice and crucial personalized nutrition advice. 

While generic LLMs boast knowledge in every field, most of them lack specialized knowledge in medicine and related concepts, making them too shallow to make accurate diagnoses. However, there are efforts to supply crucial in-depth specialized datasets to boost their knowledge base. 

Obstacles and Challenges Affecting LLM Adoption in the Medical Industry

The implementation of LLMs faces several issues including:

  1. Inaccuracy and unreliability - LLMs need to have a very high level of precision to ensure proper diagnosis. Therefore, until the LLMs are more accurate on their own, they are to be used by trained professionals to improve their decision-making in diagnosing diseases and extracting crucial information about diseases from large medical knowledge bases. Patients are advised not to replace doctors’ advice with advice from LLMs. 

  1. Hard to combine various sources of data – LLMs cannot currently combine various medical examination methods before making a diagnosis. That is, most of them cannot take in physical examinations, lab exams, patient history, and sometimes various forms of imaging at the same time when making deductions for diagnosis. 

  1. Limited scope and generalizability: Current LLMs often excel in specific tasks but struggle with broader clinical contexts. Training on diverse datasets and incorporating clinical reasoning frameworks can improve their generalizability.

  1. Lack of standardized protocols and regulations: Clear guidelines and regulations needed for LLM development, validation, and clinical use to ensure their safety and efficacy.

  1. Dynamic knowledge in medicine – Medicine, just like other fields, keeps evolving and this affects the diagnosis process. LLMs need to keep up with these changes, meaning they need consistent updates.  

Ethical Considerations

Data privacy and security are two of the biggest ethical concerns in the use of LLMs and other AI systems for medical diagnostics. Medical data is highly sensitive, and its use in training LLMs raises ethical concerns. This concern raises the need for clear patient consent and data security protocols and strict protection measures whenever private patient data is involved.

Additionally, any biases present in LLM training data may be amplified in their use, leading to unfair or discriminatory diagnoses. Developers should curate training data carefully without bias and implement bias detection algorithms to mitigate this risk. 

LLMs often offer diagnoses without revealing the reasoning behind their conclusions. This lack of explainability and transparency can be unsettling for both patients and clinicians, hindering trust and acceptance of their results.

Finally, proper diagnoses are closely tied to patients’ well-being, and may sometimes be linked to their chances of survival. LLMs for medical diagnoses are therefore required to inform patients that they are not substitutes for medical attention from trained healthcare professionals. 

Get Specialized LLMs with NLP for Your Medical Practice

LLMs on their own and in collaboration with healthcare professionals and customer service reps are revolutionizing service delivery and accuracy in medical diagnoses. They can act as virtual assistants for medics helping with medical literature analyses and extraction of key information from the literature.

Nyoka specializes in providing NLP and chatbot development services tailored to the healthcare industry. Elevate your medical practice by incorporating our cutting-edge LLM VAs (Language Model Virtual Assistants) into your team. Leverage our advanced chatbots to enhance the accuracy and efficiency of medical diagnosis as well as answer prospective client queries on your website.

Yana Irkabaeva

Innovation Director

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