There is no question that technology is disrupting the healthcare industry. From surgical robots to artificial intelligence applications that diagnose diseases, technology is changing the way we practice medicine. Of course, with every news report about a new deep learning tool that identifies cancerous cells years before the human eye can, there’s someone wondering whether technology will render radiologists obsolete. Every time someone writes about telehealth applications or chatbots that guide patients through routine questions, someone else muses about whether these machines will replace physicians.
These questions are understandable. We’ve rapidly entered a new world of medicine, and this swift change of pace can be unsettling. Articles that espouse the capabilities of AI and other tech logically raise questions about the role of humans and machines going forward. However, those who lean into the idea that human medical practitioners will be replaced are missing the mark. Technology is a tool, not a replacement.
Disinfecting a room, moving medical equipment from one place to another, lifting bedridden patients, and medication management are all important tasks related to caring for a patient. These tasks can be time consuming and, in some cases, physically demanding. They are also tasks that could be handled by technology. Using robotic assistance for these routine responsibilities would free up medical personnel to do more of what they do best: care for the patient.
Empathy is a Human Strength
Earlier this year, a physician in California delivered devastating news to a patient and his family via a telepresence robot. The exchange sparked a nationwide discussion about the use of technology in medicine. Discussions about the importance of a good bedside manner are not new. Technology simply adds a new layer to it.
The California story is an excellent example of why technology will not eliminate human medical practitioners. Technology cannot replicate human empathy or face-to-face conversation. That’s not to say telehealth tools and other tech aren’t valuable. They absolutely are. They are a tool that can extend access to medical care and address the gaps created by physician shortages. The tech must, however, be balanced with human contact and support. We must recognize when technology is the appropriate medical tool, and when it’s not.
Just the Facts
Machine learning applications can sift through mountains of data and identify patterns. This process allows the tech to make predictions based on the data through which it has combed. Researchers are using this technology to improve the way we diagnose diseases. These studies are encouraging. Machine learning can often produce a diagnosis faster and more accurately than its human counterpart. What it lacks, however, is the ability to look at those results within the context of a complete patient history. This is still an innately human ability that machines have not mastered and likely won’t. This doesn’t render the machine learning approach irrelevant. It simply illustrates the technology’s strength as a tool to be used by humans to improve patient care.
Robotic surgery is another excellent example of the way technology can be a tool that improves patient outcomes. Surgical robots like Medrobotics Flex® Robotic System give physicians the ability to access anatomical locations that were previously difficult or impossible to reach minimally invasively. Perhaps a better way to describe what’s happening in today’s surgical suites is “robot-assisted surgery.” These procedures aren’t performed by autonomous bots. There’s a trained, skilled physician manning the controls.
This is an exciting time to be involved with the life sciences industry. The examples listed above are just the tip of the health IT iceberg. As innovators like those that make up the PLSG portfolio develop new tools, healthcare continues its massive transformation to the benefit of both patients and providers.