Throw in a fancy title like the “The Robot Will See You Now” and you have the makings of a great article, right? Maybe. Jonathan Cohn of The Atlantic gives his best shot to explain why computers may take over for doctors. I blogged a couple of years about “Dr. Watson” from IBM. You can refresh yourself here. This theme will be all the rage as they continue to replace doctors with machines. Here are some highlights from the article:
- In the future as the innovators imagine it—“Health 2.0,” as some people have started calling it—you would be in constant contact with the health-care system, although you’d hardly be aware of it.
- And the provider wouldn’t be one doctor, but rather a team of professionals, available at all hours and heavily armed with technology to guide and assist them as they made decisions.
- Watson has a button for submitting treatment proposals to managed-care companies, for near-instant approval, reducing the time and hassle involved in gaining payment authorization.
- The transformation of the clinical experience could be more profound, although you might not detect it: someone in a white coat or blue scrubs would still examine you, perform tests, prescribe treatment. But that person might have a different background than he’d have today. And as the two of you talked, your exam information would be uploaded and cross-referenced against your medical record (including the data from all those wireless monitors you’ve been toting around), your DNA, and untold pages of clinical literature.
- Nobody (including Kocher) expects American physicians to turn the keys of their practices over to robots. And nobody would expect American patients accustomed to treatment from live human beings to tolerate such a sudden shift for much of their care, mall-based minute clinics notwithstanding. But because of a unique set of circumstances, the health-care workforce could nonetheless undergo enormous change, without threatening the people already working in it.
- “I don’t think physicians will be seeing patients as much in the future,” says David Lee Scher, a former cardiac electrophysiologist and the president of DLS Healthcare Consulting, which advises health-care organizations and developers of digital health-care technologies. “I think they are transitioning into what I see as super-quality-control officers, overseeing physician assistants, nurses, nurse-practitioners, etc., who are really going to be the ones who see the patients.”
- Scher recognizes the economic logic of this transition, but he’s also deeply ambivalent about it, noting that something may be lost—because there are still some things that technology cannot do, and cannot enable humans to do. “Patients appreciate nonphysician providers because they tend to spend more time with them and get more humanistic hand-holding care. However, while I personally have dealt with some excellent mid-level providers, they generally do not manage complex diseases as well as physicians. Technology-assisted algorithms might contribute to narrowing this divide.”
- Even Watson, which has generated so much positive buzz in medicine and engineering, has its doubters. “Watson would be a potent and clever companion as we made our rounds,” wrote Abraham Verghese, a Stanford physician and an author, in The New York Times. “But the complaints I hear from patients, family and friends are never about the dearth of technology but about its excesses.”