Doctor visits, who needs’em?

I recently had another run in with the American Medical system and it reminded me how much I dislike visiting Doctors. I have nothing against doctors but lets lay out how the experience came about and what happened with a little bit of reactionary text thrown in for good measure. First off, the issue I was seeing a doctor for has to do with something that I’ve been putting of getting tested for for a while. My father has the condition as do two of my brothers. I’ve had symptoms for a while and since it is non-life threatening I’ve just pushed through the difficult times and dealt with it. The primary reason I’ve done so is that it costs a lot of money to “diagnose” and “treat” this disease. Well, balancing two jobs, school, and a family finally pushed me to the point where it was worth it to try and “confirm” that I really had this problem and that I should be seeking treatment.

To “solve” this problem I first had to go to my primary care physician. It took two weeks to get in to see her. Then after seeing her I had to schedule the specialist for a consultation. That took almost 2 months for me to schedule him as he was the only one of the doctors my insurance would work through that was currently accepting new patients. The day finally arrived and he was 20 minutes late (I was the first appointment of the day). We sat down for about 20 min while he asked me a series of questions. All of them were “standard” questions that you could even find online to “self-diagnose”. He took my blood pressure, felt around my neck a little and basically said. Well, looks like we need to run some tests to make sure we know whats going on. The next time open they had to take the tests was 6 weeks away. So, from the time I sat down to when I’ll have my “answer” is a whopping 13 weeks. I walked out of the office frustrated that things were so delayed and that I’d have to wait so long to have my “answer” even though I’d already been waiting months.

That’s why I’ve decided that my previous hesitancy regarding  using computerized diagnostic technicians (like a Watson powered PA) or even just more PAs was silly. First off, A doctor is performing a set series of tasks in an attempt to “diagnose” an underlying disease and most of the time you hear back “Well, it could be this, or that, lets try these three medications and see what happens”. In my experience you never get a firm answer from a doctor anyway so why go to him in the first place? I once went into a doctor after being hit by a car while riding my bicycle and he didn’t even touch or look at my leg, just ordered an MRI and said to come back. Why did I have to pay him to do that? If the normal course of procedure (required by the governing HMO, or general “practice”) is to just take an MRI and have a radiologist look at it then why go through the hassle of waiting weeks to hear someone tell you you need a test that will happen weeks later?

This is why I would rather have some sort of automatic AI question fielding solution that people could use to speed up the process of getting the tests done or medications they need sooner. I’d rather get onto a website, answer a questionnaire and have an appointment for the tests set up then have to run through a bunch of the same style questions with a human being who is going to just “pass the buck”. Let specialists handle the special cases and the people that don’t believe what the AI is telling them (either to take X tests or that they shouldn’t). The human factor is a good one but I’ve met dozens of doctors and haven’t found the majority to be that empathetic, nice, or really that caring. Basically, if our Doctors are acting like computers, why don’t we just use computers? This is why I have great hopes for systems like Watson, that some day we’ll be able to leverage the best of both human ingenuity and computational efficiency into care that is both fast, accurate, and affordable.


*This is a IMHO article, there are glaring issues facing the idea of replacing doctors with computers and I fully recognize them as well as the fact while my experiences are pertinent to me they may not reflect the actual reality of most medical care in the United States. I am merely sharing my personal and emotionally clouded view-point. I believe we should strive for care that is both ethical, timely and affordable and how we go about that is open to debate.

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