An amazing era of digital doctors !
Columns, Over A Cup of Evening Tea

An amazing era of digital doctors !

January 17, 2021

By Dr. K. Javeed Nayeem, MD

Last week Dr. J.A.K. Tareen, a Geologist, writer, painter and a former Vice-Chancellor of three Universities, all rolled into one, sent me a very amazing and interesting video clip which tells us of all the amazing possibilities that medicine is going to see in the very near future, considering the things that are already in the pipeline of scientific advancement. 

It talks of how an almost invisible microchip embedded in the organs of our bodies like the cornea or the brain can enable us to see or feel things through a real-time internet connection with the rest of the world. While it says that examinations for our students will then have to be ‘information gathering’ exercises rather than the ‘information reproducing’ ones that they are now, I am thankful that I’ll most certainly be quitting the world before that era comes. Yes, I certainly would not want to be connected to the wide world to that extent, being fully content with my present connections with my family and friends! 

The clip even foretells the all too real possibility of having completely robotic doctors who can listen to a patient’s symptoms, scan through lab reports and clinical photographs and come up with the near-exact diagnosis and the best therapeutic suggestions. There is no denying that there is much good that can come out of such a system where robots begin to assist doctors without replacing them completely. 

For instance, no human being however well read, can look through the dozen or so drugs a patient may be taking and recall all their side effects and more importantly their interactions with each other that could be causing the symptoms being experienced by the patient. But for a properly configured robot it can be child’s play and no challenge at all. That is the power of the microchip today. 

But I feel no robot, not even in the distant future, will be able to keep its reassuring hand softly on the shoulder of any patient and tell him or her that it understands the anguish that is gnawing away at their insides. It takes a human hand to wipe not just that tear-drop on the cheek of the patient but also the fear in the heart. It needs a human to do that now and it will need a human to do that in the future too, if that touch has to do any good! 

But the time has certainly come now for all doctors to take stock of how they are practicing medicine and upgrade to what the future is heralding, if they have to stay in the profession and the race that medicine has become today. 

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Every new day is showing us new things and new possibilities and we have to make room for at least some of these advancements if we do not wish to be left behind the rest of our colleagues. Except for the few doctors like me who still rely on their human abilities and their huge dog-eared books to acquire knowledge and then tap or even rub their foreheads whenever they have to recall the elusive names of the drugs and their dosages while writing their prescriptions, most doctors these days depend largely on their smart phones and laptops for assistance. 

And, while doing this if they allow their patients also to peek into what they are seeing, they will also most certainly earn their trust more. I say this because most patients these days trust the internet more than they trust us, although they soon come back to us in tears after doing so! But while there are many apps and platforms these days that make it easy for patients to choose appropriate doctors for their ailments and also book appointments with them, there aren’t many that can help doctors to share or exchange information quickly with their colleagues in the event of there being a need to refer patients to each other for cross consultation. 

When patients who have gone through a battery of investigations by one doctor, have to be referred to another doctor for a second opinion, they can easily carry their files with them. But when their doctor just needs to show all their files and investigation reports to another professional colleague for a second opinion online, things become difficult. Any such exchange now entails scanning every single sheet of paper before it can be emailed because not all doctors, even in the most advanced countries are completely paper-less still. 

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If doctors have to make digital records each time they see a patient, it requires cumbersome typing or dictation which distracts them from their work. That is where the need arises to have a suitable platform that can make a photographic record of the patients’ papers through our mobile phones and the exchange of this information easy. 

And, if it is developed, it can not only make it easy for doctors to contact each other but also serve as a permanent repository of all the data of all the patients seen by us that can be quickly recalled even years after it has been saved. So, when a patient from India goes to the US or the UK for an extended period, his or her doctor here can share the relevant medical data with the treating doctors there and they too can do the same when the patient returns to India or even chooses to change the country of residence across the globe. 

All this will become possible without the fear of this data being misused by a third-party service provider who can unethically sell it to competitors as it is happening now. Yes, it has been revealed that many similar third-party service providers in the guise of helping patients to procure appointments are not only selling their data but also rating the competence of their enrolled doctors, naturally by charging hefty fees! Most importantly, such a software by ensuring that the details of every visit to a doctor are recorded along with what transpires during it, will serve to indemnify doctors from legal wrangles that can go against them for want of documentation. 

Today, perfect documentation is what can come to the rescue of any doctor in case of a lawsuit. Courts naturally depend only on documented evidence and nothing else while passing judgements and so if you are a doctor there is nothing like having all your case files faithfully attached to you for all time to come!

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