Why the rise of the robots will NEVER mean the demise of the doctor

On National Doctor’s Day 2022, Sigal Atzmon, founder and CEO, Medix Global, explains how the digital revolution is affecting the medical profession for the better

The digital revolution is forcing all of us to think about what it means to be human in the age of the machine. For if there is one thing we all know for certain, it is that technological progress leads to change: the creation of some jobs and the destruction of others.

What are the implications for the medical profession and in particular the doctors serving right on the front line? This is an opportune moment to consider how their role might change as India celebrates National Doctor’s Day on July 1.

This year’s theme commemorates the medical professionals who risked their lives at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021. It is also a celebration of one of the country’s most famous physicians, Dr Bidhan Chandra Roy, and the values that he represented.

BC Roy helped to set up the Indian Medical Association and Medical Council of India. But the reason why he is so revered is because of the compassion and competence that he demonstrated throughout his career.

These are the two main attributes that we all want doctors to possess. Can computers, or more particular artificial intelligence (AI), deliver either or both?

When it comes to raw processing power, the world’s fastest supercomputers can now match the processing speed of a human brain. This June, the US Department of Energy’s Frontier supercomputer broke the exascale barrier for the first time, achieving a processing speed of 1.102 exaflops (a billion, billion calculations per second).

It is an impressive achievement. But what computers cannot yet do is think like a human and there are deep philosophical questions about whether they will ever be able to.

There are, for example, a number of carebots on the market, which are designed to recognise different emotional states and respond accordingly. But their ability to understand the nuances of a human conversation is incredibly limited.

Take the example of an elderly person discussing the death of their child. A computer simply does not have the emotional intelligence to even begin to comprehend the depths of that pain and the wrong ordering of that life span.

So we will always need doctors and care givers. We should never forget why compassion matters alongside diagnostic ability.

But the digital revolution is already helping to enhance competence right across the board. Thanks to data aggregation, doctors have increasingly better access to information to base treatment decisions on and ongoing data to check whether it is working or not.

One of the best examples concerns mental health. This is still most subjective medical areas because scientists do not fully understand how the human brain works and doctors lack the clinical indicators they have in determining other conditions like heart disease or cancer.

A diagnosis of anxiety or depression still largely depends on how someone says they are feeling and an individual doctor’s interpretation of those emotions. Machines can aid this diagnostic process because they are so good at detecting patterns and learning from them.

Smartphones can collect all kinds of data that helps to form an ever-more nuanced picture of what is going on in someone’s life. Such data includes facial expressions, heart rate, mobility and sleep, in addition to surveys about how stressed, anxious, or depressed someone feels they are.

It is an area that the big tech companies are actively engaging with. Apple is mid-way through a number of studies with academic institutions and biotechs to examine what role digital biomarkers can play in unpicking mental health issues and cognitive impairment.

Continuous data also enables doctors to check whether the drugs they have prescribed are working or not. Instead of waiting until the next appointment, they can send an alert to the patient with a new regime.

Data will be its most effective when it is marshalled as big data. This is what the digital revolution promises for people who do not have access to good doctors. Lessons learned from the treatment of one life can help to save many through the successful aggregation and distribution of that information through digital channels.

Pool the experience of the collective and it in turn can aid the treatment of an individual. The right data and digital tools will help doctors to deliver the patient-centric and personalised healthcare that we all deserve.

frontline workersIndian Medical AssociationMedical Council of IndiaNational Doctors Day 2022
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