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 Still a Role for the Doctor?

Still a Role for the Doctor?

Insight for Cardiovascular Physicians from our Director

A few years ago, a computer named Watson faced off against some very smart humans on the TV game show Jeopardy! and won. I subsequently read that Watson was being programmed to function like a physician -- taking in complex clinical information in order to render a diagnosis. I don't know how successful that experiment has been, but it is very clear that technology is having an impact and is changing the way we interact with patients.

The most pervasive example? The answer to almost every question is available, within seconds, to anyone with a smart phone. So why should we as clinicians spend time memorizing facts when they are now so readily accessible? There are arguments to be made on both sides for how much of their 'memory bank' physicians should spend on data and facts that can now be found at the touch a finger.

Looking deeper into the debate though, it becomes clear that making an accurate diagnosis or a correct treatment decision still requires much more than access to information. Integrating data, using clinical judgment, and acting in the best interest of the patient are not yet things that we can "Google." It seems there is still a role for the doctor.

Technology has provided us with capabilities not previously possible. I was reminded of this last week while rounding on one of our teaching services. Stopping outside a patient room with a laptop computer and a tech-savvy intern, it seemed we could learn everything we needed to take care of the patient without even entering the room.

In this case, the data seemed to assure us that all was well -- from vital signs to labs to test results -- everything was normal. But after just five minutes of talking with the patient, it was evident that the symptoms were real and a problem existed. We were quickly able to develop a plan, communicate it to the patient and family, and assure them that the problem could and would be dealt with -- no Google in sight.

The lesson, I pointed out, was a simple one. When it comes to patient care, talking to and examining the patient are still the most important things that we do. Technology will continue to have a profound impact on health care. It provides us with accurate, timely, and convenient access to information, but it does not replace the compassion and intimacy of the doctor-patient relationship. Perhaps that is one of the important lessons we can still teach the new generation of health care providers -- the value of personal interaction between the doctor and patient. And it might just be the best way to avoid being replaced by a computer.

To hear more from Dr. Ryan, click here.