- Computers & Software
Could Robots Replace General Practitioners and Other Doctors?
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. 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 need to do a “watch me do this” routine and Baxter will soon learn it. A robot of this type could work for about $4 per hour.
This brings us to the major issue of the story: Could Robots Replace General Practitioners and Other Doctors?
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What is a general practitioner?
A general practitioner (GP) or primary care physician is a medical doctor who provides basic medical care to individuals as well as 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 from 225,000 to one million deaths per year result from doctors’ errors, a situation that would suggest they 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 accurate 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 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.
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 will probably replace them sooner rather than later, maybe within a decade or two. 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 our jobs too, and that seems an eventuality most of us will have to face sooner rather than later.
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