Could Robots Replace General Practitioners and Other Doctors?
It seems certain robots will replace many people’s jobs in the coming years
As everyone knows, the world changes fast, particularly now that technology - in particular - robotics, continues to advance at a breathtaking rate. Buy how quickly will robots replace many of the jobs we now take for granted?
Let’s explore this issue and find out if robots may one day replace medical doctors such as general practitioners. But first let’s check out the history of robotics and the modern application of such marvelous machines.
Please keep reading!
Brief history of robotics
The development of robots began in ancient times. About 2,000 years ago, geniuses in Greece, the Roman Empire and China began producing machines and automata powered by air, steam or water, and some of these marvelous contraptions resembled animals or people. Perhaps the greatest inventor of robots in antiquity was Hero of Alexandria, who created a mechanical version of a Greek play, complete with binary-like devices attached to a rotating cylindrical cog wheel.
However, programmable automata weren’t developed until the twelfth century by Al-Jazari, who created a musical robot band that could be programmed to play different rhythms and drum patterns. Al-Jazari also made a humanoid robot, which could refill a water basin once it had been drained.
Then, in 1898, Nikola Tesla produced a “wireless” radio-controlled torpedo he hoped to sell to the U.S. Navy. And, in 1948, William Grey Walter produced the first electronic autonomous robots, followed in 1954 by George Devol, who developed the first digital and programmable robot and named it Unimate, the first industrial robot.
Modern application of robots
Robots of all types are showing up in factories, businesses and homes throughout the world, particularly in Japan, China and South Korea, three countries which lead the planet in the usage of robots of all sorts. In fact, the leading country, Japan, has 40 per cent of the world’s robots, while North America, as a whole, has 16 per cent.
According to an article titled “Robotic Age Poses Ethical Dilemma,” for an issue of BBC News published on March 7, 2007, South Korea hopes to put a robot in every South Korean household by the year 2020.
Robots have been sent to other planets as well. NASA’s Curiosity rover, sent to Mars in November 2011, may be the most advanced scientific robotic device developed to date.
As for robots of the microscopic nature, nanorobots are tiny robots (the size of a nanometer) that can be injected into people and perform complex tasks such as micro surgery, utility fog (replication of physical structures), manufacturing, weaponry and cleaning. Much of nanorobotic technology is strictly theoretical, but some components of nanorobots, such as the development of molecular motors, have been produced.
People friendly robots
In the old days – just years ago actually - it was considered too difficult and expensive to produce robots capable of performing simple, repetitive tasks such as flipping hamburgers or cleaning floors, but these days matters have changed dramatically. Collaborative robots are now available that can easily and effectively work with people in the workplace. Leading the way in this field, Rethink Robotics has produced “Baxter,” a robot with what the company calls common sense.
Such robots are available for about $22,000 and can be programmed to perform simple industrial tasks. In order to train them, you simply do a “watch me do this” routine and they will soon learn it. A robot of this type could work for about $4 per hour.
What is a general practitioner?
A general practitioner (GP) or primary care physician is a medical doctor who provides basic medical care to individuals and gives health information and advice to the general public. In the old days, they were called family doctors and did a little of everything, including deliver babies, but no longer. These days, GPs are the first doctors you see when you enter a clinic or doctor’s office. At that level, they may simply provide advice and/or prescribe drugs or treatments for people’s medical conditions. Otherwise, they can only send patients to specialists for further treatment.
Nurse practitioners also provide many of the duties typically assigned to GPs, though they aren’t paid as much. However, a GP may charge as much as $1,000 an hour for his or her time.
Nowadays, hoping for higher pay, most medical students are becoming specialists, not GPs, and therefore GPs seem to be a disappearing breed. So should machines replace what few are left?
Do we really need GPs or other doctors?
According to an article titled “Will Computers Replace Doctors?” on the website Newsvine.com, dated January 17, 2011, the first paragraph of the story reads:
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.
The articles goes on to read that at present most doctors can no longer keep up with the myriad changes in medical procedures, treatments and the usage of prescription drugs. It also stated that in the US more than 250,000 deaths per year result from medical errors, a situation that would suggest that health professionals are truly being overwhelmed with data.
In fact, according to the article “Better than Human Why Robots Will - and Must - Take Our Jobs” on the website Wired.com on 12/23/2012, robots will replace 70 per cent of all jobs by the end of the twenty-first century, and this will include many jobs in the medical field, even that of surgeons and certainly that of GPs.
And, according to the article “Robots are coming (for your job)” on the website Salon News, dated 9/26/2012, just about everybody’s job may be replaced by robots, even prestigious positions such as doctors. The healthcare sector will continue to expand, as a result of aging and gradually increasing affluence. But a well-equipped bathroom medical station might be able to communicate with central hospital computers, eliminating the need for throngs of nurses who draw blood, measure pulses and fill out reams of insurance paperwork. Nor will MDs necessarily be spared. Diagnostic software will replace the doctor who is paid to look up a patient’s symptoms online. Moreover, robot surgeons may eventually be more efficient and than tired or careless humans.
Could a smart phone app replace GPs?
At least in the world of fiction, wireless phone technology could replace GPs. In the novel Cell (2014), a medical thriller written by Robin Cook, a fictitious health insurance company begins testing iDoc, an app that provides real-time medical assistance and maintenance without doctors, clinics or hospitals, although some physicians and other health professionals work in an iDoc call center. Patients who use iDoc can also receive an implant, which can dispense drugs and/or hormones such as insulin (an insulin pump works in a similar way.) Unfortunately, iDoc begins to malfunction and kill people, the gist of the plot in this "what if" tale.
But in the present, factual world such an app could become a reality within ten years or so. Don’t be surprised when it happens - the possibilities for smart phone technology seem limitless.
Reasons why robots may never replace doctors
According to an article on the website medicalfuturist.com, dated May 24, 2018 and entitled “5 Reasons Artificial Intelligence Won’t Replace Physicians,” there are five reasons why artificial intelligence, or robots, will not replace doctors or other medical professionals and they are as follows:
1. Unless robots or chatbots or some other automated system in healthcare can provide human empathy in a medical interaction, healthcare will suffer greatly. The helping hands of compassionate doctors will probably always be needed. A computer algorithm will probably never replace flesh and blood.
2. Doctors don’t think as robots do – their working method is nonlinear and much more interpretive, since every patient’s disease, medical condition or injury is unique, which requires creativity and problem-solving skills that robots may never be able to provide.
3. While robotic systems can provide amazing results in surgeries, such as that possible with the da Vinci Surgical system, or for cancer treatment options provided by IBM Watson, which is able to sift through millions of pages of documents in seconds, only doctors working with patients can provide the nuance-based interaction needed for any given medical problem.
4. At least some of what doctors do these days could be automated – administration and paperwork consume from 8 to 20 per cent of a doctor’s time and almost certainly could be automated sooner rather than later. But it may be impossible, at least in the foreseeable future, for a robot to perform the Heimlich maneuver. Humans may always be able to provide such techniques in a much more reliable, quicker and cheaper fashion.
5. If the technical aspects of medical diagnosis and treatment are always emphasized over the human interactions in medicine, patients will suffer. Whether regarding artificial intelligence, robots, augmented or virtual reality, all of it should be utilized. The cooperation of artificial intelligence and humans is the most important way of dealing with modern medical situations.
Therefore, could robots replace general practitioners? Since GPs are already an endangered species and perform a job that is rather mundane and generic and often requires relatively few skills compared to that of specialists, robots and/or computers may soon replace them; and if these high-tech automated replacements save the lives of patients and a great deal of money as well, we’ll all be better off, won’t we?
Of course, robots may replace many other jobs too, and that seems an eventuality many of us will have to face sooner rather than later.
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Baxter the Robot
© 2013 Kelley Marks