Why technology won't replace human interaction in healthcare

Technology may take the place of human interaction in some aspects of healthcare, but that doesn't make in-person contact any less important, according to two industry professionals. 

Humans and computers are very good at different things, Sam Altman, president of Silicon Valley-based tech incubator Y Combinator, told the Wall Street Journal in an interview.

"A computer doctor will do a better job than a human on looking at a massive amount of data ... but on cases that require judgment or creativity or empathy, we are nowhere near any computer system that is any good at this," he said.

Sue Desmond-Hellmann, CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, said during the interview that there are parts of the interaction between a patient and a physician that are special, including "asking the right question, laying on hands, caring, understanding what's going on in a way that [IBM's] Watson still can't do."

As technology improves health outcomes, the human part for a physician actually becomes more important, she said.

In 2012, Silicon Valley investor Vinod Khosla said he thought it would be possible that machines and algorithms could replace doctors, FierceHealthIT previously reported.

History of symptoms, other illnesses and test results all could be handled by computers, he said. Follow-up, too, could be more automated, he added, through the use of mobile devices.

Rapidly growing technologies like telemedicine already have docs considering the implications in regards to physician-patient interaction, though current guidance also calls for in-person visits as well, which is causing controversy in the industry.

To learn more:
- read the WSJ interview