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Robots VS Doctors?

“Robots will soon replace doctors.” Discuss your views on this.

If this question comes up on your MMI, the most obvious answer is that it won’t, or else the examiner will probably rebut by asking why you applied for medicine just to have robots replace you.

There is no right model answer, but the examiner is looking for 1) comprehensive answers that look at both sides of the argument 2) several keywords that you might use similar to if they have asked “what makes a good doctor.” 3) the way you communicate and all the usual things like eye-contact, confidence etc.

So what areas could you mention? Here are a few suggestions:

1. Diagnosis

The vast amount of medical knowledge that could be stored in a robot’s database seems more superior than our human brain, which has been proven to be quite forgetful (evident in the cases where we forget our keys etc). However, more knowledge does not necessarily equate to an accurate diagnosis. The argument is somewhat similar to self-diagnosis using the Internet – there are millions of symptoms available on the Internet, alongside their related differential diagnoses (ddx) but that does not mean patients can self-diagnose correctly or that they won’t go see a doctor for reassurance and reconfirmation.

Another concern is the increased chance of iatrogenesis, which are detrimental conditions induced on a patient by a healthcare professional, often a consequence of overdiagnosis. However, that could be the case for both robots and human physicians.

2. Treatment

Medicine is a profession where a slight miscalculation or mistake could be detrimental, impacting the morbidity and mortality of patients. In this regard, robots do seem to be more accurate when performing treatments or interventions. Of course, there is also the reverse argument whereby robots can also make mistakes like computers and smartphones.

However, how about the cases where interventions have been futile, be that late or end stage cancers or unheard-of congenital disorders? For robots which base their treatment (and diagnosis) on facts, logical deductions and statistics, their take for these patients may not be ideal, as they would probably give them a death penalty. However, for human physicians, that might not be the case since we seem to persevere despite apparent odds and are willing to experiment. Even if the patient is too tired or is unwilling to try, at least human physicians can offer them palliative care and give them some warmth using our human touch?

3. Consultation

Think about this: would you want to visit a very smart doctor, who has 100% success rate but appears cold and objective; or would you want to have a compassionate empathetic doctor who has a 98% success rate? Surprisingly, many people would choose the latter. Studies have also shown that homeopathic medicine sometimes has its therapeutic power through caring and being empathetic towards your patients. Thus, we can conclude that human physicians may fare better in this aspect. Nonetheless, the huge workload and insufficient resting hours for doctors have slowly turned them into cold doctors, who just view patients as a disease or a number, instead of treating them as a whole, holistically. So wouldn’t they then be a robot physician too?

These are only a few pointers, and the question specifically asks about your opinion, so do express what you think and feel, and it wouldn’t hurt if you add in what you learnt during your work experience and clinical shadowing! ou add in what you learnt during your work experience and clinical shadowing!

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About the Author:

I'm a medical student at Cambridge University, and one of the co-founders of 6med. I created the BMAT Crash Course and Interview Crash Course, and helped code BMAT Ninja and UKCAT Ninja. If you need a hand with anything, feel free to give me a shout!

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