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Why being human is important to being a doctor

robot.jpgJournalists are almost categorically underpaid and overworked - or unemployed. So when researchers at Northwestern University introduced a sports-reporting robot a few months back, it was hard for me to tell if the general reaction was one of fear or a kind of just-end-it-already fatalism. Writing in the web era often feels less like art and more like computing, anyway.

It turns out that doctors face a similar fear of technology. As Eric Van De Graaf, MD, writes on KevinMD:

In a world where complex software at sites like Amazon and Pandora can predict your tastes better than you can, where Google can access trillion pieces of information in fractions of a second, where all details of everyone’s medical history will potentially be available for data mining, and where computers can trounce the grandmasters in chess, someone could come up with a computer program that would out-doctor even the best of doctors (is there an app for that?). How is it that our system continues to rely on the imperfect judgment of doctors to treat us?.

From there, De Graaf launches a fairly comprehensive defense against computer intelligence. Doctors remain essential, he argues, because in many medical cases, one plus one does not equal two:

The art of medicine is what you lean on when you have to explain to family members why the surgery you just performed on their loved one didn’t produce the beneficial results you had hoped for, or, even worse, resulted in an adverse outcome or complication.

The art of medicine guides you in dealing with an emotionally fragile patient who needs a procedure or treatment that you know will be beyond their ability to cope.


The art of medicine is choosing a course of therapy based as much on an understanding of the character and personality of the patient as on knowledge the disease process itself.

I'd write up a similar defense of human journalists, but I'm busy aggregating.

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