Will robots really provide our healthcare in the future?

24 November

Robots have been in use now in the NHS for the last ten years. Even private companies are using robots to do observation duties like taking blood pressure, pulse and so on, rather than using nurses. There are quite a few things robots can do for us.

As the technology develops, we’ll get some really nice robots and robotic computers assisting in various microscopic surgeries. My own brother had his prostate surgery done not long ago and a robot was used for that, and the results are very good. I’m not against robots by and large. But at the end of the day, 99% of things will still be done by the human touch. 

There’s a very good saying in medicine: most of the time, nature takes its own course to heal things. During that process, when nature is taking its time, a good doctor shows himself by how good his bedside manner is and how nice he is at communicating with his patient. Robots can’t do that. The human touch will always be needed when it comes to your healthcare.

I’ve been a GP for 30 years and I’ve seen the evidence. If I give telephone advice, it’s only really acceptable for a few minor things. People feel a lot happier if they come and see me, even if I don’t write them a prescription, because they’ve had a good chat with me and things really do work out a lot better.

“The human touch will always be needed when it comes to healthcare. Robots can’t do that.”

Three things are needed when you become ill. It’s the ABC of healthcare. A is access – the very minute you have any pain or you become unwell, you want to be looked at straight away and that means access, whether to A&E, or to see a GP or a nurse. You want immediate access, to be able to tell someone that you have a problem and that you want to be seen as soon as possible. Simple as that.

B is behaviour. When you go and see somebody, whether that’s a doctor or someone in an ambulance, you don’t want to be treated as a commodity. You want to be treated as a person by someone who has the capacity to listen and who has a very good bedside manner. You want to be treated as a human being. What’s often happening with these robots, is that doctors are looking at a computer or a screen rather than chatting with you, talking about your problem and discussing it with you. is terribly important. Around 80 or 90% of things could be sorted out with good access and good behaviour.

C is the clinical quality. Let’s say that after A and B, it’s found that your appendix needs to be taken out. You need that done in a safe manner, with clinical quality. 

Any system that can provide these three things would be considered one of the best. We can go on and on about what kind of access, and how we could save money and so on. But all systems need these ABCs and you won’t have them all with just robots.

Robots will be good as assistance as technology advances, so I’m not against them. But they will never replicate the human touch.

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