Rise of the Machines: Robots Replacing Doctors
When I first saw this blog post in the Washington Post, needless to say, I was skeptical. My mind flashed to the robot maid, Rosie, from The Jetsons in a lab coat wheeling around the exam room and dispensing antibiotics from her trap door mouth. But once I got past the outlandish caricature, it really started to make a lot of sense. Not to oversimplify, but what is medicine if not an input-output algorithm? You go to the doctor’s office– or SHS if you’re like me and already getting violently sick– where you fill out the medical history forms, sit and play on your iPhone waiting for an available physician or NP, and eventually see someone, tell them your symptoms, wait for them to connect the dots, diagnose, and prescribe. Quite the process. But imagine how quick and efficient it would be if all these symptoms were merely combined and cross-referenced against millions of diseases in nanoseconds. Now, of course, there’s room for error even where machines are concerned:
but the rate of error does tend to be much lower than their human counterparts. Furthermore, the applications for surgery far exceed those of diagnosis in my opinion. Machines are already used in production to great success thanks to their speed, accuracy, and indefatigable nature. These production robots are designed to perform incredibly precise, ergonomically stressful tasks quickly, accurately, and ad nauseam. The use of machines such as these in surgery reduces patient risk significantly; surgery robots are programmed to cut to the nanometer and are thus unlikely to nick a vein or vital organ in the process. For this same reason, robot-assisted surgery involves fewer and smaller incisions resulting in less blood loss, less pain, and quicker healing time.
Regardless of the specific use, there’s no question that robotics in medicine will help both patient and professional. The speed and efficiency gained from the use of robotics would allow care centers to treat more people more quickly and can even have humanitarian applications by providing supervised medical care in impoverished countries where there simply will never be enough doctors– even with NGOs setting up charity clinics– to treat all those who need it. The possibilities seem endless so it appears that we’ll just have to sit back and wait for HAL, Bender, and Data to start staffing our urgent care centers.