Medicine gets a tech boost

The quality of medical care in this country has many faults, but it’s finally taking advantage of technology to bring some new benefits to us. But it’s been a long time coming. While email has been around for almost thirty years, trying to reach a doctor often required calling and anxiously waiting for a call back, often days later. And whenever we did visit our doctor, they would take notes on a yellow pad during office visits.

Now many health providers are finally using the technology we’ve been using. My doctor sits in front of a computer screen and can see my entire history while he types in notes in real time. New apps and websites have given us the ability to interact more easily with our health providers to ask questions, request appointments, view test results, and renew prescriptions. Video conferencing now allows us to have a face-to-face conversation and avoid an office visit for some situations.

Using an app, we can now get the results of our medical tests, such as routine blood tests, just hours after the samples were drawn. No longer need you wait days for the doctor to call you with the results. Of course, if the results require discussion, it still may take days before you can reach your physician. These apps also do a good job to educate us by presenting the information more clearly and even allowing you to see a history of your test results over the past decade.

But even the best apps can’t solve all the problems. Human interaction and judgement remains a critical need. While AI technologies are improving a doctor’s ability to read xrays or diagnosis symptoms, the human element is still needed. We can google all we want to try to understand our symptons, but even with AI, a personal discussion with your doctor cannot be replaced. We need a trained, skilled doctor overseeing care, not software algorithms or artificial intelligence. Case in point: a friend recently had a cataract operation, and while the operation used some of the most advanced automated surgical equipment, the surgeon used a magic marker to put her initials on his eye before he was wheeled into the operating room.

Looking ahead, probably one of the biggest potential benefits of AI will be in medical care. By analysing millions of medical records to detect trends and wring out meaningful data, our doctors will have new tools that can aid in diagnosis and make them even more effective. In spite of the promise, we should be wary when technologists propose eliminating the doctor from diagonosis and treatment and relying only on their software. The technology community has a poor record of forseeing the unintended consequences of their inventions.

by Phil Baker