“If a physician can be replaced by a computer, then he or she deserves to be replaced by a computer.”
I recently went to a talk given by Dr. Warner Slack, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and Co-President of the Center for Clinical Computing. During his talk on the cybermedicine and the feasibility of computers in patient care, he made the quote above. It got me thinking – what role does technology have in medicine, and how will this relationship evolve in the future?
Today, physicians increasingly leverage technology in medical practice –for example, ultrasonography, telemedicine, and mobile apps are among countless tools that help doctors diagnose and treat patients. However, there are even some people think that technology can replace doctors entirely (see here, here, and here.) Dr. Slack’s research was on the electronic patient history questionnaire, a computer that uses artificial intelligence to take a relevant patient history. IBM’s Watson supercomputer can make diagnoses more accurate than most doctors. But despite all the advantages of machines, they still lack the ability to build interpersonal connections, and distinguish clinical nuances, and navigate ethical issues, all things skilled clinicians can do.
In my mind, I envision a future where computers complement, not replace, physicians in the delivery of better healthcare. For example, todays’ primary care physicians are burdened by shortened patient visits and an increasing list of duties. Computers could assist these physicians, asking and recording relevant points about the patient’s history, complaints, and medications. The physician can then have this information before the visit, reducing wasted time and allowing for improved doctor-patient interaction. Technology has the potential to dramatically improve the delivery of healthcare, but I don’t think doctors or going anywhere quite yet.