Can Technology ( Robots & Software ) Replace Doctors?

In the last few years many technology experts are starting to look at ways the healthcare industry can confront some of its biggest challenges. First among these challenges are medical care cost and the secondly the limited supply of doctors that will provide care. Vinod Khosla, co-founder of Sun Microsystems, believes one day computer-generated algorithms that make decisions, based on broad patient data, will lead to better healthcare, than what is currently being offered by doctors.

Currently robots are increasingly present in surgical suites and machines are doing a better job at recognizing abnormalities on radiology reports, and humanoid nurses are already caring for elderly patients in Japan. Projects like IBM’s Watson have been able to use natural language processing  and process millions of books per second and be utilized in healthcare.

The volume of healthcare information is growing at an tremendous rate and is continuing to increase. This data will need to be processed and interpreted and medical Artificial intelligence applications hare already begun to parse this data and make recommendations to doctors in assisting in medical care .

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He stated that algorithms operated by devices with artificial intelligence would provide a much more objective analysis that doctors can not give patients today do to the current structure of the healthcare system that implied doctors and alters their thinking, preventing them from making the absolute best choice for there patients. Khosla believes 80% of doctors could soon be replaced with software.

Currently radiologists confront this very issue everyday. The must try to reduce ta patient exposure to radiation, despite a broad based medical consensus that children are the most sensitive an vulnerable to ionizing radiation. According to a recent study, (Donnelly, LF. Reducing Radiation Dose Associated with Pediatric CT by Decreasing Unnecessary Examinations, AJR February 2005, 184: 655-657)  Emergency room doctors order routine computed tomography scans (CT scans) non children with minor head injurires, when several hours of observation is just as effective.

Since we are human, doctors, nurses, and other healthcare provides are driven by both emotion and reason. Fear is the most powerful emotion, that can fuel a doctors action. Healthcare providers are always under the constant thereat of litigation, these type of culture breeds an environment that causes doctors to actions that may not necessarily be needed or in the best interest of care , but more for protection of being found liable for a medical outcome.

Vinod Khosla believes machines will be the primary decision makers in the future, making decisions based on algorithms. To some extent the healthcare industry is already there today, Diagnosticians are taught to consider common ailments before rare ailments, this logic is already powering some level of healthcare today.

Kosla, along with other technology experts, are promoting the idea that machine-based system logic and reason can create an level of objectivity that people can not achieve, the objectivity from a machine will bed based on logic that will increase with experience. The argument is that machines are not biased as they can not fear a treatment plan that will work best a patients health as well as be more economical. Since they also do not love they will dispense a cold-hearted objectivity that can potentially improve medical care.

Machine-based algorithms can definitely provide improved logic to make healthcare better, buy they still must be interpreted by caring doctors, and their must be enough available to meet and be helpful in patients lives.

The goal, in the end, is for medical innovation to help people and improve the healthcare outcomes and results and for all of those involved. If medical practice began entirely based on algorithms, five year survival rates and healthcare would become devoid of it’s critical human element.

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