Age of the Robot Doctor

Binary data in cyberspace

Data will reshape healthcare delivery in the near future. The age where medical treatment is more automated than not may be coming soon.

50 years from now? 100? No one can predict the future but I’m going on the record to say its renaissance is coming in our generation’s time.

The age is already emerging. Companies are investing in the technologies.

Perhaps the most well-known example of “robots in medicine” is Intuitive’s famous da Vinci Surgical System. Though this system still requires the hand of a doctor to operate it (and lately there has been much controversy as to its safety), it has arguably revolutionized minimally invasive surgery.

More exciting is the advent of autonomous robots in medicine – machines that can function on its own. One example is J&J’s solution for “robotic anesthesiologists,” called Sedasys.

Sedasys would automate the sedation of patients undergoing colon-cancer screenings… that would cost about $150 a procedure [compared to $600 to $2,000 for an anesthesiologist’s time]

Automated sedation before a procedure. Kind of crazy, right?

But administering anesthesia automatically is potentially just one tiny part of a patient’s experience.

Imagine technology where both decision making and execution is machine-driven, automated and is implemented across the full continuum of care – from diagnosis to drug choice to performance of surgery itself (if you’ve seen Prometheus, you may cringe at the thought).

Imagine one machine that measures your vitals, scans your body, excises a tumor, and administers morphine, only making the best decisions based on your demographical, clinical and genetic profile.

Bit crazier right?

However, you want to picture it, whether it’s a field of I, Robot-looking doctors or an array of computer-assisted systems (the more likely progression), automated delivery of care will become scalable, rendering the traditional roles of doctors and nurses all but obsolete.

CDSS, clinical decision support systems, will become CDMS, clinical decision making systems.

“Healthcare providers” will become more like “technicians,” supervising technology and systems rather than using them as support. Medical education will completely change, targeted towards merging the existing clinical roles of PA, nurse and doctor all into one — “care supervisor.”

Moreover, automated care, will be the true culmination of a principle thrown around by many clinicians but because of misaligned incentives is not often enough adhered to – evidence-based medicine.

And what is going to make this all possible?


Data will allow outcomes-driven decision making to be implemented real time.

If event a goes wrong with patient of x genomic profile, y,z demographics and v,w clinical conditions, action b will be triggered – as big data tools will inform the system this is the best course of action in terms of outcomes 99% of the time.

As technology progresses, systems will be able to respond to changes quicker and quicker – within seconds, if a patient’s heart rate drops, the planned course of treatment will change instantly, and so forth with any micro-change in the patient’s state.

To think of a data-driven “system” administering drugs or performing open heart surgery without a person steering the wheel sounds almost too inhuman. And don’t get me wrong, the “new healthcare provider” (i.e., technician) I mentioned must always hold dear the virtue of a compassionate patientbedside manner.

But if we are to address maximizing positive outcomes and the health of society as whole, the age of the robot doctor is the future.


Recommended resource: Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think