Will Computers Replace Doctors?
On the surface this may seem like an absurd question, but some people are taking this possibility very seriously. If we exclude for now, those doctors who are surgeons and those who are engaged in emergency situations, most other doctors might very well be replaced by computers.
Most doctors listen to a patient's symptoms, checks their vital signs and then order some more tests and afterwards recommend some drugs and other treatments. One problem with this is human error. Vital signs could be checked by a nurse.
The symptoms a patient has could be fed into a computer for a more comprehensive and up to date analysis. The final recommendations as far as drugs and other treatments could be determined by a computer.
The fact is there are too many drugs and new ones are constantly added, and too many medical procedures and there are too many new discoveries about how the body works, for most doctors to keep up with the information.
Many doctors are actually trained by pharmaceutical representatives about different drugs. Because of this information overload, doctors make all types of errors.
On the low end doctors errors result in an estimated 225,000 deaths per year. On the high end it has been estimated that doctor errors are responsible for close to 1 million deaths each year in America alone.
This means that more Americans die as a result of doctor errors than from tobacco. Computers can obviously retain massive amounts of information and they can stay current with the latest data about drugs, procedures and treatments far better than any one person can. So what do we need doctors for?
Most doctors only spend a few minutes with patients. They charge too much, and they make wrong decisions all the time. One study found that doctors quizzed about risk factors of common surgical procedures, most of they were not sure about the risks involved!
Hospitals are already using computers to assist with diagnosis and many other functions. The only question is how long will it be before computers become the final decision maker in all diagnosis and in all treatment recommendations. Hospitals are obviously eager to support ways to reduce the number of malpractice suits.
There are clearly some challenges to computers replacing doctors. One problem is that the same symptoms could be caused by different things and require treatments. One person I knew had severe headaches for years and aspirins and other headache medicines did not work.
She eventually turned to acupuncture and her headaches went away. Her headaches had started as a result of a head injury. Many childhood diseases have similar symptoms including fever, weakness, headache, rash and so forth.
It is hard for example for doctors to distinguish polio from Aseptic meningitis. While doctors make mistakes along these lines all the time, it is not clear if computers could do a dramatically job on this front. Furthermore, all of the drugs and most of the treatments carry risks with them whether the recommendation is from a doctor or a computer.
Clearly there are major problems associated with the use of doctors and replacing doctors with computers may be one solution to these problems.
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