“Prepare Yourselves, Robots Will Soon Replace Doctors in Healthcare.” At least that’s what Forbes published in July, 2017. I love dreaming about healthcare’s slick and digital future – whether it’s robots, AI or augmented reality. And walking the floor of any telemedicine conference it’s easy to get caught up in that three ring circus. But walk the halls of a typical hospital and the view is quite different.
I recently visited the Johns Hopkins emergency department in Baltimore to check out their new telemedicine set-up. The telemedicine cart looked and operated very similarly to others I’d seen. What stood out to me were the humble surroundings – no futuristic panel of screens, just a cart in a utility room – and the simple objective. According to Jun- aid Razzak, the emergency physician behind the project, the telemedicine cart was being used primarily to find out if tele-screening in the emergency department could effectively reduce the Left Without Being Seen (LWBS) rate. In other words, could a quick video consult with a doctor keep patients from leaving the emergency room when there happened to be a long wait? Razzak and his team are keeping it simple. Test this hypothesis, track the data, publish the data, and then scale to a few more facilities if it works.
Robots replacing doctors? It’s fun to talk about, but at Hopkins, the third best hospital in the nation according to U.S. News and World Re- port, telemedicine exists in the petri dish. How it performs “in the lab” will inform what happens next. It’s a slow a steady approach that eschews glitzy roll-outs.
Hopkins isn’t alone. To the north, Mount Sinai in New York City is putting virtual health- care strategies to the test. They’ve partnered with a start-up called Wellth, which applies behavioral economics to the problem of medication non-adherence. To put it simply, Wellth will pay you to take your pills, and Mount Sinai is testing to see whether their methods can reduce readmission rates for a specific set of patients. A simple, measurable objective that can guide future developments.
It should come as no surprise that intelligent folks at major healthcare institutions are playing SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely), yet in a market dominated by the hype of robots, smart watches and virtual reality, it’s good to see an institution tackle problems methodically, with an eye towards evidence-based medicine.
Will all home care nurses eventually wear augmented reality glasses? Will you receive your prescription by drone? I don’t know. We can take nothing for granted about what form telemedicine will take going forward. Therefore we must test, fail, test again, iterate, then try it all over again. We must gather data, then we must share the data.
If that leads to robots replacing doctors, so be it! But I have my doubts.