I have seen a few articles recently about the increased use of technology in healthcare and how it could potentially lead to fewer fully trained doctors being required and decreased costs in the NHS in the long-term.
Dr Eric Topol (US health expert) has recently been asked by the government to look at technology and healthcare. He has prepared a report, which suggests that many patients could monitor their own long-term health condition, for example by wearing devices and sensors rather than attending review appointments. He states that this monitoring would be much more effective than the occasional doctor’s visit.
It is also suggested that patients could be discharged from hospital sooner. With elderly patients, for example, being monitored from home with cameras and devices to detect falls.
Mr Hancock, Health & Social Care Secretary, has confirmed that he welcomed Dr Tolpol’s ideas and stated that the NHS was lagging behind in the use of sophisticated technology.
I acknowledge that technology has definite advantages and could improve certain areas of the healthcare system.
However, a recent concerning online report confirms that, in California, a patient was recently advised that he was going to die via a video link screen attached to a robot. The patient was told that he would die within a few days by the doctor on the video call.
A family friend was quoted as saying that it was ‘an atrocity of how care and technology are colliding’. To make matters worse, the patient’s wife was not with him when this news was conveyed to him and, when she complained about how the news had been given to her husband, she was advised that ‘this is our policy, this is how we do things’.
A careful balance always needs to be struck between efficiency and saving costs and providing appropriate care to patients. Some patients simply will not be able to manage their own long-term health conditions and so a ‘catch-all’ policy is never appropriate in a healthcare setting. If technology is used to tailor and improve care for a patient, for example a working mum who struggles to attend review appointments and is able to monitor her condition herself, then it can only be seen as a positive step.
However, I can never imagine that it would be appropriate to have sensitive discussions regarding treatment or care or end of life conversations by any other means than a face to face discussion.
So whilst I feel as though there is a place for technology in the healthcare system, it should never replace human compassion and care.