Robotics can replace your doctor? I stopped listening at “doctorbots can keep track of every … ” new development worldwide.

That’s a feat but it is not medicine.

Medicine, to the extent that the medics I know understand it, is not just dispensing drugs or surgery based on studies worldwide. It is—just for example—getting an aged senior to see that she might be better off to at least consider a retirement home before she ends up with a hip fracture falling downstairs (much worse late life prognosis).

One country doctor who often visited elderly women who live alone would excuse himself to the kitchen to get a glass of water—and discreetly have a look in their cupboards. Tea and cornflakes, he would say later. No wonder they are sick.

Then, of course, there is learning how to tell people—in a way that they understand and can accept—that their best option is palliative care. Or that their unborn baby shows no signs of life.

The first principle of medicine is: First, do no harm. Don’t make bad things worse. The second principle is, understand the patient in the environment. What will probably really happen, apart from intervention? So what is intervention intended to achieve?

For example, the hundreds of studies showing that cigarettes are bad for us are important and useful. A few good studies on the methods of stopping smoking with the highest success rate would also be useful. But the art of medicine is to persuade the patient at risk (say, from diabetes) to just quit smoking. Not to be “Bill”, who “has diabetes. He quit smoking the day his leg was amputated.”

In the end, it comes down to helping the patient see his own reality clearly enough to help himself heal.

Oops. The docbot has just outrun its battpak.

See also: People seem to be turning against the i[can’t]Carebots—robot caregivers for the elderly

Robotic caregivers are a bad idea (but not just for the obvious reasons)

Denyse O’Leary is a Canadian journalist, author, and blogger.

Denyse O’Leary is an author, journalist, and blogger who has mainly written popular science and social science. Fellow Canadian Marshall McLuhan’s description of electronic media as a global village...