Would It Upset You to Be Diagnosed by a Robot?

Truth be told, there isn’t any good way to be diagnosed with a potentially fatal disease, or even that you’re nearing the end of your time on earth, but there are definitely ways that can make it better and definitely ways that could make it far worse.

A family is very upset after a video robot rolled into the family patriarch’s hospital room to tell them that he couldn’t treat him effectively and didn’t think he would be returning home, leaving them devastated. Would it upset you to be diagnosed by a robot?

Our Opinion

Looking at this news link, Phil sees it as “a brave attempt to make the message more personal when the guy couldn’t be there in person.” And while he does think it could be worse, he also finds it lacking a personal touch, as “bedside manner sort of requires you to be at the bedside.” He appreciates that at least the news was delivered live and not via a recording.

Elsie notes that “it’s hard enough relating with chatbots,” leaving her unsure that she’d want a robot telling her stuff about her health. She looks at the fact that it’s programmed and may not be as accurate and agrees with Phil that it lacks the personal touch.

Sayak says he “wouldn’t flinch for a second to receive stuff like injections, routine checkups, rectal exams, and dental assistance from Dr. Robot.” He figures they would do a better job than most human doctors. But with something very advanced or that you need to receive anesthesia for, he doesn’t think it’s right, feeling that with anything more than a simple procedure, robots should only be there for emergency backup.

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Ryan agrees he wouldn’t want news to be delivered to him or a loved one via a video. “It’s just bad bedside manner.” Like Sayak, he wouldn’t mind rote procedures being done by a robot but feels humans need to be involved in some capacity with more complicated procedures.

It makes no difference to Miguel as long as the possibility of human error is reduced. He feels “medicine is a pragmatic tool just like the scalpel.” If he wants his feelings to be addressed, he thinks another branch of medicine, therapy, is there for that.

Alex deadpans that robots “can’t ignore me anymore than they already do when I’m in front of them, and they’re busy tapping away at their electronic health record system” while they’re asking him rote questions. He might be into it if a real robot would pay more attention.

I look at it from both the family and patient perspectives from my own experience. I was delivered news like that; I was told I had cancer. I needed the warmth of another live person delivering that diagnosis. I also had a doctor drive a half hour out of his normal area to tell my family in person my mom had less than a month to live. He didn’t need to do that. He could have phoned it in. But he went the extra mile, actually several, for us, and we appreciated it and needed it.

Your Opinion

Do you have personal experience with this? Either getting a disturbing diagnosis from a live person or from a robot or other non-caring way? If not, how do you think you’d feel? Would it upset you to be diagnosed by a robot? Let us know your thoughts and concerns in the comments below.

One comment

  1. Like it or not, we are heading towards AI diagnosis. Most doctors have gotten too full of themselves and too self-absorbed. They have already pawned of most tasks on nurses. Some diagnosis must be delivered in person, not some disembodied, mechanically-generated voice, telling you “You’ve got cancer” (think AOL’s ‘You’ve got mail’) or “I’m sorry Mr. So-and-so, you will expire in X days”.

    Maybe instead of AI robots, the diagnosis will be delivered by a professional empathist.

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