This article was exclusively written for the Sting by Mr Alexander Brezina. The writer is a German national studying medicine at the Catholic University of Louvain. He is also affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA). However, the opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.
Change happens all the time, but we tend to realize its full scale only once it concerns our personal lives. In the so called “4th Industrial Revolution”, meaning the ever increasing automatization of complex processes. Hence ,a lot of people might lose their jobs, be it taxi drivers to self-driving cars or waiters to sophisticated robots.
As medical students, we look at this with empathy for the people concerned, but it still seems far away, because it cannot happen to doctors, or can it?
The supercomputer Watson from IBM is being further redefined as a diagnosis and treatment aid that can go through hundreds of journal articles, treatment guidelines, electronic patient data and doctors’ notes to help answering diagnostic questions, initially to help us. However, now we get ourselves hit by a self-driving car, as we cannot compete: gather all that data, read ALL the new literature, neither care for our families nor our sleep.
If we cannot beat him in this game, what can we do?
Medical technology is there to serve the patient, and so we should learn how to use it when needed No one can possibly know all the interactions of drugs, but there are some good sites and apps for this purpose. Furthermore, in medical education, new and more evolved machines which can simulate patients that breath, have a heartbeat to name but a few features, are now being used.
However, everything comes with a price, so we should also discuss with the patient how far they want to go in sharing their data make sure that they know what those health apps they use do with the date collected? There have even been cases of data for millions of patient stolen from the British National Health Service, so we should never be careless with our data but handle it responsibly
Responsibility should also be one of the key attributes for a doctor in the new age: Even if the most developed software proposes something, it is still our decision and we bear the burden: How can you possibly defend your actions to a family who has just lost a loved one if all you have to say is basically: “Well, I pushed the buttons I was told to push and it did not work.”
Last but not least, our biggest strength and skill to develop must be our humanity. Watson is supposed to learn how to understand patients’ complaints explained using their natural language. But will he be able to read between the lines? Will he be capable of compassion, often essential to the healing process? Doctors, too, feel pain. They too, can try to fathom what it would be like for a family to have their main earner not able to work anymore. Doctors, too, have cried, tasted of all the feelings on the buffet of human existence.
All of the above makes our specificity, we should continue to keep our heads up high and treat not just diseases but the patient as a whole.
About the author
German national spent a year in the US before coming to study in Brussels at Catholic University of Louvain, to combine medicine and French. He then continued his passion for multiculturalism with two Erasmus exchanges, one to the Universitat Internacional de Catalunya in Barcelona, where he first came into contact with IFMSA and wanted to establish it at hisuniversity. He did another Erasmus exchange to the Universidade do Porto, in Porto, Portugal. In his spare time, he likes indoor climbing and learning more languages, and of course, IFMSA.