Can computers replace physicians?


Category : Medical Rants

A reader sent me this question: "Yesterday, after my MCAT class, two biomedical engineering students and I talked about this article and the future of medicine: we debated whether such robots could reduce the need for doctors by 80%"

When I read such predictions I chuckle at the naivety of those who make such pronouncements.  The computer advocates do not really understand medical care and diagnosis.

What do we do that computers/robots will have great difficulty replacing?  The most important thing that we do involves understanding our patients and what they are really saying.  We understand how to ask questions and how to interpret those questions with carefully couched followup questions.

We understand how to approach each patient, what vocabulary to use, and how to read body language.

Let's consider possible uses for computers.

Computers do not think, rather the provide results of calculations.  They cannot choose which data to include.

Computers can only help with diagnosis when we know that we have the wrong diagnosis.  Computers will make the wrong diagnosis if we do not know what information to put into the computer.

Remember the classic adage, junk in, junk out.  We have to understand the patient before we can take the history, do the physical and order appropriate tests.  

Many patient diagnoses are delayed because we have premature closure.  We stop collecting data and stop thinking.

Computers cannot provide the healing touch.  Computers cannot comfort.

Maybe one day we will have androids who appear human.  Until then patients need us, because the human relationship really matters to most patients.

Comments (10)

The interesting aspect of the question is the 80%. The answer is probably.
Whenever you introduce new technology, think of what happens when you give a fourth grader a calculator to do their math. You can predict what is likely to happen.
They will get most problems right (for the sake of argument let's say 80%)
They will get some problems wrong.
The ones they get wrong, they may get wrong by a lot. Not even close.
They won't understand why they got them wrong.  
The key is to teach the fourth graders math and then let them have calculators.
Thus it is with new medical technology, of which robots would merely be the latest iteration. They might elevate the quality of medical care overall. who knows?
They might make bad doctors better. But I would be willing to bet they will make good doctors much better. (think of the CT scan – everyone benefits, some more than others, but the person who benefits the most is the excellent neurologist).   

The answer is NO, NEVER. If there is a human another human will be the person who heals. H

[…] Read more at db’s Medical Rants. […]

Some time ago there was a debate about the rise of alternative medicine. While many good points were made the consensus was that these disciplines flourish due to the fact that the people involved spend time with their patients.
In today’s world where patient time is measured in moments, not even minutes, having someone at least sympathize with your problem often goes a long way in providing support. A point often made is that medicine may only speed recovery; a cold will take a week to run its course with or without medication. Having someone tell you to drink lemon tea and rest does not change the recovery period, but gives you a shoulder to cry on about how lousy you feel.
An underlining question in this post is: If a doctor is only going to read test results from a computer printout, why involve the doctor?
We need to get back to doctors spending the proper amount of time with patients to hear their stories and learn the truth of their ailments.
I greeted at church and one cold day an elderly lady with eyes wide open blurted out that I was the only person to touch her in weeks when I rubbed her hands to get them warm. This is a sad comment about our society.
Steve Lucas

Creators of "House" missed a golden opportunity to deal with this issue by not doing an episode or or perhaps a two parter on House's Diagnostic Dept's being replaced by Watson, setting up the ultimate confrontation of man v machine.

I would not want a computer doing my prostate exam. 

You may be missing the point- what if a noninvasive computer could prevent the need for a prostate exam with a high resolution scan of the gland- and tell you the likelihood you will need a biopsy?
You would forego that prostate exam in a New York minute. 

Computers will never have the practical wisdom of a good clinician.

You may understand patients, but why is IBM’s Watson computer beating the accuracy rates of oncologists? See:

My Guess: most people want accuracy and the human mind just cannot beat a computer with AI.

No, computer can never replace doctor. And humans can never fly. And humans can never move faster than cheetah. And nobody can touch Moon. And two people can never talk to each other unless they are together on the same place. Shall I continue? 🙂

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