Dr. Robot

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St. Joseph's Hospital in Atlanta piloted a robot that replaces the physician admitting patients from the emergency room. It has a monitor projecting the doctor's voice and face, a web cam to view the patient, and is remotely directed to rooms. The doctor has lab and radiology studies from his computer.

The COO of the robot company said, "Once we got the physicians to act more human using the robot, the patients were quite pleased." Patients think their doctors act like robots, now doctors use robots to be more human? Imagine the prostate exam. It would be the world's first digital digital exam.

Patients have become bombs -- too dangerous for human doctors. No different from the word 'hit' in the vernacular of residency signifying an ER admission.

"We have three hits in the ER," the intern says. "Three hits? Send the robot," the senior resident says.

Professor Brenda Zimmerman has described three types of medical innovation: simple, like baking cookies with recipes; complicated, like a rocket launch, where formulae and expertise are critical and sending one rocket increases future success; and complex, like raising a child, where formulae are limited and raising one child gives no assurance of success with the next. Expertise can help, but relationships are key and uncertainty remains.


Medicine fits the last category. If I'm having a heart attack, I want to see two things: a nurse and a doctor. I don't want to see anyone without opposable thumbs.

Eventually a technician will enter your clinical parameters into a computer with your radiology and lab results. It spits out the treatment: you need knee surgery. The patient says, "My daughter is getting married and my dog needs his teeth cleaned, how about in two months?" The computer replies, "Your arthroscopic knee surgery is scheduled in two days. Thank you, goodbye."

Are we there yet? I hope not.

With a Perspective, I'm Dan Shin.