Posted by Sam on Sep 15, 2008 at 12:00 AM UTC - 5 hrs
Even though they have a special hero(ish) status, it's a popular pastime (some might say cliché) to complain about medical doctors making so much money when nurses and other supporting cast in the medical industry "do all the work."
The justification for paying out the ass for just a few minutes of your proctologist's time is that they need to pay their insane educational loans. And don't forget about how hard they worked in school that long just to learn their asscraft.
"Still," we always say, "do we really need the doctor? My nurse did everything I needed done, and I could have told you I have strep throat and needed some pennicilin." Even if we don't trust the medical support staff to make the decisions, we have ways of making those decisions without a doctor.
As medical expert systems become better, we might expect the doctor to become obsolete. From my vantage point, I'm unable to see what about a doctor could be better than inputting a list of symptoms to a machine and getting back most likely diagnoses, which could ask questions to further refine the results. It could even consult a list of prescriptions (drugs, therapies, surgeries, et cetera), cross reference it with your medical profile (or DNA, when we have medicines tailored to individual genomes), and give you advice on what to do next.
Some people might even think an application like that would be better than human doctors.
Under such a system, it's unlikely all human doctors would become obsolete. For example, we'll always have a need for the maverick hacker doctor who can think outside the box.
But in most cases, most doctors are going to continue to diagnose the same diseases and prescribe the same (potentially biased) treatments to each patient who comes in. It's a factory, and we're on the conveyor belts.
Of course, even if we were to have the capability to replace most doctors (my belief is that we do), I don't think most people would feel comfortable consulting a machine about their problems. Dr. Sbaitso only gets us so far. We want the comfort of another human telling us what's wrong with our health, not a heartless machine.
Still, I think it would be interesting to see the results of large scale experiments pitting man vs. machine in the field of medicine. How much more successful is one over the other? Is that success due only to non-life-threatening conditions? Would that benefit to society be outweighed if one failed more often on the catastrophic problems of a few individuals?
I'm not a doctor, and I can't tell you exactly what they bring to the table. Could be something I've completely overlooked, or something we're unlikely to know unless we're in that industry. But that's how it looks to me. I'd like to confirm or disprove that hypothesis with a test.
What do you think? How would it end up?
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