Image Source: Pexels
Technology continues to startle and astound as it breaks new ground. In healthcare, these technological advancements carry with them powerful implications for patients and care providers alike.
But could technology go so far as to truly replace doctors? At least one big Silicon Valley investor thinks so.
However, the field of healthcare may be far too complex and human-centered for tech to truly replace doctors. To get a better sense of whether or not doctors are under threat of automation, we’ll look at what tech will and will not be able to do in the course of medical care.
What Technology Can Do
The potential of technology in the medical field is as limitless as the potential of technology itself. In the future, all kinds of unimaginable processes might be possible through technology that we do not have access to now. However, there’s a lot we can say about the future of doctors and robotics based on the trajectory of these industries.
First, there are robots. These are any type of autonomous machine that can help medical professionals in the course of caring for patients. Then, there are the information systems and connected devices that feed data to care professionals. From here, all kinds of automation and improvements are possible.
This range of technological tools has the potential to replace doctors in completing many tasks. These tasks typically fall under the categories of diagnosis and treatment or administrative functions.
Diagnose and Treat Some Conditions
Technology has truly changed the face of healthcare. As doctors attempt to find the causes of illnesses and treat them, tech provides life-saving efficiency and precision. We see this in the development of tools like an AI that is 75% accurate in detecting severe sepsis in premature babies. Now, platforms like telehealth even bring AI diagnostic potential into patient homes.
Meanwhile, robotics are assisting in all kinds of work, from surgery to sanitization. These healthcare robots range from the personal to the clinical and can even improve the surgeon’s precision through AI-powered tremor reduction. However, these robotic surgeons don’t replace doctors — only aid them.
From here, patient outcomes are improved as diagnostics and treatments are made more efficient. Then, the administrative side of healthcare gets a boost, too.
Automate Administrative Functions
The bureaucratic aspects of managing patients are where much of the automation potential lies in the healthcare industry. From conversational chatbots to ambient intelligence systems, tech makes it possible to streamline the less-personal things for better patient outcomes.
For instance, conversational AI is already saving patients and doctors time and money by helping patients book appointments and manage their care. These systems can handle much of the clinical communication work. Then, tools like ambient intelligence make it possible to automate note-taking and transcribe appointments for better records. All this makes for more data and smarter administrative intelligence.
With so much potential for automation within care, are doctors really at risk of replacement? Let’s look at what technology in healthcare can’t — and likely will never be able to — do.
What Technology Can’t Do
This is a big question, one likely to shrink as tech continues to advance. For doctors, however, there are a few important elements of the job that improving AI and robotics are unlikely to replicate at scale. Most importantly, these include a human connection, along with the ability to consider a range of nuances that machines can’t.
Provide a Human Connection
One of the most highly stressed skills for doctors to develop is a good bedside manner. That’s because this skill can have a measurable impact on the health outcomes of patients, particularly where it concerns chronic illnesses like diabetes or asthma.
Doctors are our point of contact with the science of our own health. Being able to communicate with these professionals person-to-person creates value that we will unlikely get rid of at any time in the future. That’s because humans are uniquely capable of empathy, or the ability to put themselves in another person’s position. Doctors must practice empathy to provide ideal outcomes for patients.
Understand the Nuances of Biology and Humanity
Similarly, technology cannot account for all the little complexities and nuances that make up being a human. One great example of this was the failure of an AI health system to diagnose a heart attack in a test simulation. The AI diagnosed the heart attack in a “male” patient just fine but misdiagnosed the same symptoms as a panic attack in a theoretical “female” patient even though she was a smoker.
This shows how technology can fail to accommodate all the variables needed to create a more informed picture of a person’s life and the treatments they require. Technology cannot account for patient anecdotes, specific lifestyle details, and more that could inform care. To do so, the AI would have to be massive and incredibly intelligent, making such a platform inaccessible for most communities.
Instead, human doctors who can connect with us on a personal level will likely always be a touchstone of care. Perhaps in the future, the role of a doctor will be more of a facilitator between patients and care machines. However, the human touch is needed to elevate care outcomes to their greatest potential.
Technology will most likely never truly replace doctors, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t changing care. Automation is here from surgical robotics to administrative chatbots. Explore what these technologies mean in the course of your own work and care to better prepare for the future.