Doctors in the Future

For the last century medical doctors have gained great respect and value in society because of their contributions to alleviating suffering, generally improving our quality of life, and prolonging human life.  As a result they have commanded high salaries in relation to other professionals.  Undoubtedly due to what is at stake and the liabilities of their profession the educational and internship standards and licensing requirements are very high.  But once licensed the practice of medicine is not that more intellectually demanding than many other highly technical professions.  For most doctors the practice of medicine is primarily about diagnosis and treatment.  There are a few who are in research, ground breaking fields, or involved in surgical procedures requiring more than diagnostic skills but the vast majority primarily diagnose symptoms and prescribe treatments.  Most tests and complex treatments are performed by technicians or others medical specialists.

More and more test results and medical diagnosis are being performed by computers.  Computers are very efficient at dealing with huge amount of information and coming up with conclusions by following extremely complex rules.  Artificial Intelligence (AI) is even able to learn and create new rules.  They never tire, require breaks, and can process information millions of times faster than any human.  They can take millions of data point from large networks to quickly digest and spit out diagnoses and statistics predicting the confidence level of a correct diagnosis.  The error rates of computers is millions of times lower than the best doctor given adequate and accurate information.  Computer can also ask for specific symptoms to eliminate or better focus on a possible diagnosis.  However garbage in will produce garbage out.  So computers can potentially take symptoms, diagnosis, and treatments from a large database to potentially do better than what most doctors do now, having the data and experiences of millions of doctors around the world.

So what is stopping this from happening?  It has been my experience that doctors are among the most ignorant professionals regarding the use of computers.  For those who are in the know they understand the threat to their profession and are not embracing computers taking over their profession.  Most other professionals such as engineers already use computers extensively in their daily jobs.  Most cannot do without them.  Many have already been replaced by computers.  However until recently the only computer you saw at a doctor’s office was the one their receptionist was using for appointments, insurance, and billing.  However because of recent government and insurance requirements that doctors convert over to computerizing all of their records of tests, symptoms, diagnosis, and notes a database is quickly being built up that will aid networked computers in doing many of the important diagnostic services doctors used to do.  Where there are physical requirements nurses, technicians, and doctors specializing in such physical procedures will continue to perform those tasks until eventually robots take over in the distant future.

So the writing is on the wall.  Doctors who spend most of their time making diagnosis and recommending treatment will soon be gone, casualties of computers.  Such doctors will become like pharmacists, double checking and dispensing treatment like pills until society has confidence in computers making double checking unnecessary.

Jobs requiring creativity will continue being done for some time into the future.  So doctors doing research will continue with their careers for perhaps another generation.  Hands-on doctors will continue physically treating patients.  The same applies to many R&D engineers.  But eventually AI and robotics will progressively take these jobs as well.  The same can be said for other jobs.

So what will man do into the distant future?  I leave that to those with a better crystal ball than I.

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