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Every now and again, reading magazine articles or watching documentaries or just in conversation with non-medic friends, I am warned that our profession has no future. We’re going to be automated: artificial intelligence will replace us in the next few years, and anything we can do robots will soon be able to do better.
Well, bring it on. I for one will eagerly welcome our new machine overlords, but I’m not holding my breath. Every day at work I watch highly-trained colleagues spend half their time performing tasks that could be better done by machines, and it drives me wild.
For example, a good many of the hospitals where I’ve worked have had no reliable means of delivering samples to the lab. Even if a chute system is in place, it’s often so erratic that you can’t trust valuable samples – which includes, among other things, any sample from a baby – to its vagaries. As a result, I’ve known neonatal units where a senior house officer had to make a 15-minute round trip twice per shift to drop off samples by hand.
Arranging tests is another issue. In most hospitals there are still routine tests where the only way to request them with any hope of success is to physically walk down to the relevant department with a piece of paper. This isn’t a problem that needs artificial intelligence to solve – email would do it just fine. Email? Carrier pigeons would be an improvement.
Or again, anyone who has worked in any role in a hospital is familiar with the experience of filling in numerous forms, each of which requires the re-entry of a patient’s name, date of birth, hospital number and address on every page. What’s the point? Surely this is something we could have handed over to a machine by now?
Sure, there may well come a time when robots can read MRI scans, resect prostates or identify skin lesions. Maybe one day even be able to take histories and advise patients. But for now it would be nice if they could simply be put to use doing some of the uncomplicated donkey-work that they’ve been technically capable of for decades.
Each of those humdrum little jobs is a minor annoyance in itself. Individually, they may not feel worth making a fuss about. Collectively, though, these mindless tasks drain time and energy out of a junior doctor’s day. They could, and should, have been automated long ago. While the NHS continues to fail to invest in simple mechanisations that would clearly improve efficiency, none of us can have much to fear from the robots taking over.
By the Secret Doctor
Read the blog and follow @TheSecretDr on Twitter and on Facebook
Just digital rota? Rather than handwriting?
Absolutely in agreement with this article. Don’t even get me started on how fax machines are *still* in widespread use in the NHS.
Having said that, many doctors are taking action on this. NHS hack days exist, where doctors identify problems in the NHS, and then team up with coders to fix them. Hopefully this will drive some change.
I'm on call Monday to Thursday and Robocop during the weekend....Brillant!!
OMG the number of mindless tasks
I do In general practice - just waiting for the referral forms to load from one system to another can take 5 mins but they don’t pick all the data required his required another 5 minsof endless clicking!