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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.


My posts are not to serve as a replacement for recommendations provided by licensed physicians nor do they represent the opinions of Baylor College of Medicine or its affiliated institutions. Please read this site's Disclaimer and Terms of Use for more information.


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