Tech investor: Computers could replace doctors

Could machines and algorithms eventually replace doctors, leading to a more automated healthcare process? It's possible, says Silicon Valley investor Vinod Khosla in a TechCrunch post this week, who argues that computers likely will mature from providing bionic assistance and second opinions for doctors to giving first opinions and referrals.

According to Khosla, general checkups for common maladies should take 15 minutes at a maximum, something he said a computer algorithm easily could handle "as well as the median doctor."

"Physically having to go to your doctor's office makes sense for the most part, except that a lot of the basic tests are either visual ... or auditory," Khosla said. "Most of the time a [doctor algorithm] could at least advise you when it is worth visiting based on your normal body functions, your current indications, and your locality's current infections and other symptom trends."

History of symptoms, other illnesses and test results all could be handled by computers, as well, according to Khosla, as patients "are the one[s] providing the doctor with the symptoms anyway." Follow-up, too, could be more automated, he said, through the use of mobile devices.

Several readers disagreed with Khosla's take, many pointing out that not everything can be boiled down to simple equations. One reader, for example, pointed out that "each [patient's] condition is slightly different," thus requiring different treatment plans. "Computers won't simply replace doctors," the commenter continued.

A second reader called patient care "a balance of the art [and] science of medicine," touting the creativity and listening skills utilized by doctors for treatment. "So far, there is not a skill listed ... which a PC on wheels can accomplish," he wrote. "I fear a tipping point where we lose the ability to perform skills if we continue to farm out our duties to machines."

A third reader pointed out that she wants to see a combination of Khosla's vision and the continued use of doctors. "Healthcare is lagging behind the technology and digital media trajectory and should for once get on the bandwagon," the commenter wrote. "But at the end of the day [I] still would like my old family doctor to validate [that] the technology is right."

What's your take? Do you think the doctor-patient process is something that can be automated? Let us know in the comments section, or take the conversation to Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.

To learn more:
- read Khosla's commentary

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