Could Computers Replace Doctors?
An interesting question was recently sparked by a Simulation Technician who asked “Will computers replace Doctors?”. Considering that the innovations of technology continue to grow through the development of exponential processing power the reality is anything is possible. While not so much about medical simulation, I think there is a serious need in healthcare to restructure itself around the use of technology which is clearly disrupting how the field has long since operated. I searched the internet to find some fascinating articles about this very topic:
- The Robot Will See You Now – “IBM’s Watson—the same machine that beat Ken Jennings at Jeopardy—is now churning through case histories at Memorial Sloan-Kettering, learning to make diagnoses and treatment recommendations. This is one in a series of developments suggesting that technology may be about to disrupt health care in the same way it has disrupted so many other industries. Are doctors necessary? Just how far might the automation of medicine go?”
- Technology will replace 80% of what doctors do – “Much of what physicians do (checkups, testing, diagnosis, prescription, behavior modification, etc.) can be done better by sensors, passive and active data collection, and analytics. But, doctors aren’t supposed to just measure. They’re supposed to consume all that data, consider it in context of the latest medical findings and the patient’s history, and figure out if something’s wrong. Computers can take on much of that diagnosis and treatment and even do these functions better than the average doctor (while considering more options and making fewer errors). Most doctors couldn’t possibly read and digest all of the latest 5,000 research articles on heart disease. And, most of the average doctor’s medical knowledge is from when they were in medical school, while cognitive limitations prevent them from remembering the 10,000+ diseases humans can get.
Computers are better at organizing and recalling complex information than a hotshot Harvard MD. They’re also better at integrating and balancing considerations of patient symptoms, history, demeanor, environmental factors, and population management guidelines than the average physician. Besides, 50% of MDs are below average! Computers also have much lower error rates. Shouldn’t we take advantage of that when it comes to our health?!”
- For Second Opinion, Consult a Computer? –
Just how special is [a Doctor’s] talent? More to the point, what can [they] do that a computer cannot? Will a computer ever successfully stand in for a skill that is based not simply on a vast fund of knowledge but also on more intangible factors like intuition?
The history of computer-assisted diagnostics is long and rich. In the 1970s, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh developed software to diagnose complex problems in general internal medicine; the project eventually resulted in a commercial program called Quick Medical Reference. Since the 1980s, Massachusetts General Hospital has been developing and refining DXplain, a program that provides a ranked list of clinical diagnoses from a set of symptoms and laboratory data.
Clearly the implications for data-assessment are here, but what of the intuition necessary to guide conscious decisions? Let us know your thoughts by leaving a comment!
Lance Baily, BA, EMT-B, is the Founder & CEO of HealthySimulation.com, which he started while serving as the Director of the Nevada System of Higher Education’s Clinical Simulation Center of Las Vegas back in 2010. Lance is also the Founder and acting Advisor to the Board of SimGHOSTS.org, the world’s only non-profit organization dedicated to supporting professionals operating healthcare simulation technologies. His new co-edited Book: “Comprehensive Healthcare Simulation: Operations, Technology, and Innovative Practice” is available now. Lance’s background also includes serving as a Simulation Technology Specialist for the LA Community College District, EMS fire fighting, Hollywood movie production, rescue diving, and global travel. He lives with his wife Abigail in Las Vegas, Nevada.