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Toby Cosgrove: Why We Need Artificial Intelligence in Health Care

August 22, 2018, 9:38 PM UTC

Toby Cosgrove has glimpsed into the future of medicine, and it is decidedly digital.

The physician-businessman, who served as president and CEO of the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic for more than a decade before transitioning out of the role at the start of 2018, tells Fortune that artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality technology like Microsoft’s HoloLens, and similar advances are critical for keeping pace with the evolution of medicine.

“When the Cleveland Clinic was formed almost 100 years ago, the total amount of knowledge in health care doubled every 150 years,” Cosgrove told me in March during Fortune’s Brainstorm Health conference in Laguna Niguel, Calif. “Now, it’s doubling every 73 days. There are now 800,000 journal articles written every year. Every human genome has 3 billion data points in it. How is anybody going keep track of that and be able to use it without help from artificial intelligence, machine learning? So I think there’s a tremendous necessity and opportunity associated with digital health.”

Cosgrove specifically mentions the promise of technologies like pacemakers to treat neurological conditions like Parkinson’s and depression. He also makes special note of a device the Cleveland Clinic itself has been using to train surgeons: Microsoft’s HoloLens. As Cosgrove tells it, Microsoft innovation guru Craig Mundie called him up and told him to try out the machine. “I put the headset on, and I’m on Mars,” Cosgrove said. “And I said, ’Wow, this is pretty terrific.’”

The rest is history. Cleveland Clinic now uses the HoloLens to teach human anatomy. “We can teach anatomy without a cadaver,” Cosgrove says. “I’m walking around a heart and I have a view I’ve never had in 40 years as a heart surgeon. The important thing is, this allows the teaching to scale.”