The Computer Physician

As technology continues to refine the possibilities in healthcare, it seems like medicine is quickly approaching a point where computer algorithms could accurately diagnose and treat a number of conditions independent of physician intervention.

For example, although smartphones have been popular for less than a decade, we already have ways to diagnose pneumonia and malaria through apps and peripheral attachments. While there are no longitudinal studies assessing the efficacy of such technology, I surmise that as advancements are made, computer diagnostic skills will rival that of even the most astute clinicians. And perhaps at a much lower cost?

Imagine coming down with the symptoms of strep throat, going to your local Walgreens/CVS, having a rapid strep test (RST) performed by a computer, getting the results back within 10-15 minutes, and proceeding directly to the pharmacy to pick up a course of antibiotics (RST positive). The same machine would have access to your immunization records and, with your consent, immunize you accordingly. Maybe a centrally-located physician would “confirm” the orders without actually having to see the patient? No need to wait forever in a clinic. No need to worry about completing piles of paperwork. Just a quick tuneup for the pharynx, and you’re done.

Now extrapolate that scenario to a multitude of common clinic visits. While this would significantly impede on healthcare continuity and the doctor-patient relationship, I feel that some patients would be willing to sacrifice that from time-to-time for the promise of quicker turnover.

But then there’s the issue of liability and malpractice. Can you blame a computer for misdiagnosing your malignancy as an infection? And in the modern Web 2.0 era… where “everyone is a doctor” thanks to WebMD and Dr Oz, who can you really blame for trying to take a shortcut with your own well-being?

I’m a firm believer that while technology will continue to facilitate diagnostics and treatment modalities, it will never replace a licensed healthcare provider.

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