Can Robots Replace Physicians?


Can Robots Replace Physicians?

Revolutionization of the digital dimensions has created and stored innumerable data in digital spaces. The world of Big data is so huge that to make sense of it we need artificial intelligence(AI). AI has not reached that level to supplant human workforce yet, but it has sneaked into our lives to some extent. Narrow AI has been introduced by companies like Microsoft, Google and Apple in the form of Cortana, OK Google and Siri respectively. With the infusion of latest technique of AI in almost every walk of life as we are going through fourth industrial revolution, it is quite certain that healthcare industry will lead that race. In healthcare industry, AI is evolving at a rapid pace more than ever, especially when coupled with robots. Some experts have formed a communal perception that these advance robots will supplant human workers and soon will take over the hospitals. Such speculations are unsubstantiated, since robots that are in use now-a-days still leave humans in charge for complex procedures.

Just as engineers are testing self-driven cars successfully, soon there will be a time when a patient will also be able to get his/her personalized prescription with the help of artificially intelligent machine. There are already numerous sources available online like which not only prescribes a customized medication to a patient based on a pre-defined questionnaire but also recommends whether to further consult physician in person or not. These types of platforms also give patient an analysis about the interaction of food intake with his/her current medication. Today engineers are rectifying these algorithms more and more to amalgamate them with high performance hardware in order to create an intelligent robot which’ll allow the automatic computation of personalized dosage based of patient’s previous medical history in an efficient and swiftest way. IBM Watson Health is a perfect example of this. Following these progressions, I am convinced that intelligent robots will play a vital role in healthcare and AI and machine learning will definitely affect its course in an effective way. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean robots are going to replace human factor altogether.

According to Professor Richard Lilford of Warwick University: –

I don’t think computers will ever supplant the doctor’s diagnosis. I think things will change… a computer may become a second opinion, or perhaps even a first opinion, but the doctor will still make the final call.”

Robots can boost the healthcare system and contribute to physicians’ efforts thereby producing better medical outcomes. Such as in soft tissue surgical procedures, De Vinci Surgical System has been in use for more than a decade and it has been quite efficacious. But this system is a mere extension of a surgeon’s competences who controls it through console. These robots augment surgeon’s abilities as they are programmed to make decision as per pre-defined most accurate choices.  Thus, they eradicate the chance of any unintended error during an incision caused by human’s hand tremor thereby providing a precision that can’t be pulled off by even an experienced surgeon. But founding a discernment that someday a robot entering into surgical theater for a complex procedure without any involvement of trained surgeon seems implausible.

One area where robotic assistance to physicians can necessarily be helpful is in diagnosis and treatment of disease by learning from patients’ previous medical records. Currently, data management in hospitals is a major concern. Google has recently launched its Google’s Deepmind Health project whose main concept is to artificially learn from the bulk of patients’ medical records in order to provide the medical services in a short span. The project itself is in its nascent stages but its implications to healthcare can be noteworthy. Even if this project turns out to be a giant success which I am sure it will, the doctor’s intuition should still be given preference. Because, in some cases physicians often have to act earlier before offering final diagnosis. For instance, if we consider headache or fever, both conditions can comparatively be innocuous or can also be an initiation of something stern. Sometimes a patient is asymptomatic which demands medical tests to diagnose properly and that can only be construed by experienced physicians or pathologists properly.  So, all these scenarios leave the human factor irreplaceable, because no matter what psychological and emotional factor be, they cannot be separated from patient care.

Robots are programmed by humans with the capability to learn but in some circumstances the chances of a patient to survive the operation are very less. Regardless, surgeons do trust their experience and take chance to save human lives. We can understand this by Will Smith’s character in the movie ‘I, Robot’, where a robot underwater saves Will (capable of swimming) and leaves a little girl to drown just because as per robot’s calculations Will had 45% survival chance compared to the girl who only had 11%. As robots are programmed to take action according to logical and most accurate choice, so they lack imperative factors of ‘creativity’ and ‘empathy’. Every person possesses a little bit different anatomical structure in terms of organs’ size and before letting the robots handle the treatment alone they will have to be programmed with the lot of data. So, I think programming an intelligent machine which during surgery discerns the particular person’s operated area, decides the course of action, acts upon that decision and at the end evaluates whether to further operate or not is a mighty job for engineers. Even if in near future we get successful in developing a precise and dexterous robot which makes as good decisions as humans, I still deem it wouldn’t be able to alter the course of our healthcare system in a way that it will replace physicians. That’s so, because firstly, these kinds of technologies are way too expensive and they’ll only make a difference if available to the average mainstream operators and not just to wealthy hospitals. Initiative’s De Vinci surgical robot used by Michael Stifelman for NYU surgeries alone costs $2.5 million and this is just human controlled, based on this imagine the price of a fully functional self-automated robot. Secondly, they are way too advance and can only be handled by experts.

So, to sum all this up we can say for sure that robotic infusion to healthcare system can help professionals to streamline their jobs but it can’t displace the human mind altogether. The best way for robots to enter into healthcare mainstream is through their collaborative working with physicians. This shouldn’t be the question that, whether jobs of physicians and other workers are in danger due to the rise of robots because this comparison means the underestimation of trained doctors’ skills. The prime concern should be the existence of both in the same environment. As intelligent robots programmed with brute processing, Big data along with extraordinary algorithms doesn’t need any vacation or suffer from sickness like humans do but at the same time there are many important factors where humans excel. We can support this argument on solid ground that when it comes to exercising judgment or being creative, robots become useless. These two qualities are crucial when it comes to providing life-saving treatment. If senior physicians let robots do the less complex work like collecting data from patients, training junior medical staff or even less intricate surgeries then they can continue to focus on their own research work which someday might led to the discovery of new cure for some disease that robots have still to be programmed about.

Author’s Bio:

Muhammad Arslan

Electrical Engineer graduate from NUST-PNEC with interest in Biomedical computing and a passion to write about it. I am also a cricket enthusiast and a content creator at GoSportica. Currently I am preparing myself for higher studies.

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