Technology and computers are taking over many tasks in society. For instance, in the past in grocery stores, a clerk typed in the price of an item into a cash register to sum up the total of items. Now, a scale is built into a barcode scanner and cashiers are not really needed. In law offices, smart scan machines are reading legal documents and checking for errors, a job that used to be reserved for new lawyers. So if computers are invading the world, will doctors be necessary to see patients and determine the right treatment? The answer is complex.
The Future of Telemedicine
Computers are currently used for a multitude of tasks in the medical field. There are robots that assist in surgery, and in some hospitals, robots are the carriers of medications and supplies throughout the premises. Specialized computers are now scanning X-rays and looking for abnormalities, as sometimes subtle changes are better spotted by computers than humans. In intensive care wards, computers often monitor the extensive data of each patient and can spot trends and suggest treatment options based on extensive data analysis. With increasing data in medicine, computers can often analyze any number of problems and help determine solutions based on the probabilities suggested by the information.
Telemedicine is also a burgeoning field. This can be a variety of medical activities from providing long distance consults with video chats through a remote clinic and provider or specialist, to a visit that is with a nurse, patient or a long distance provider. Remote monitoring of data by a specialist for an intensive care unit and remote reading of radiology imaging is also being done.
Computers can analyze information and find patterns in data if programmed well, however, they cannot yet substitute for the personal interactions of a patient and doctor. A computer still is unable to do a complete physical exam and understand subtle abnormalities portrayed by a patient. Assembling the information from a history, exam and studies, as well as interpreting responses to treatment performed to determine what may be beneficial next in management is also currently beyond the ability of a computer without extensive interaction with a physician.
Computers can be a great assistant in medicine. The human factor of personal interaction with a patient and performing a physical exam is essential in the ability to treat any patient. Many times I have reviewed a patient’s history and studies prior to a visit in order to form a tentative plan, and after the visit found a totally different problem with a need for a different treatment plan. The human factor is often essential in patient treatment, the compassion and the individualized management coordinating a plan. At this time computers may be an assistant but they are not ready to replace the doctor.
Thomas Cohn, MD
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