The progress of medicine is a remarkable thing. There was a time when doctors couldn’t fully map the human body, and a time when drilling a hole into a patient’s skull was a genuine medical procedure; now we’ve mapped not just the human body but the human genome, and can use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to see the real-time, inside workings of the human brain without lifting a scalpel.
Meanwhile we’re at a turning point in terms of how technology is defining our lives. From smart homes and smartphones, to fitness trackers and self-checkout counters at supermarkets, tech plays a part in more and more aspects of our day to day existence. Yet health care seems to be the one area where the experience is still distinctly human.
The idea of going for an appointment with your doctor and being met by a robot feels like the scene from Star Wars where Luke gets his new hand, but the reality is that such a scenario could be closer than you think.
British medical tech firm Babylon recently launched a trial chatbot to serve as a partial replacement for the UK National Health Service’s 111 phone service. This is a non-emergency line staffed by people with no formal medical training, where callers are led through a series of questions in order to ascertain which type of professional medical assistance they need.
The 111 service is valuable in that it limits the number of patients with non-urgent complaints turning up at hospital emergency rooms, but the service is expensive to run. The Babylon bot gets users to answer a series of multiple choice questions, and the process takes a fraction of the time of a phone call, saving the user time and the NHS money that can be better spent elsewhere.
Image Credit: The Business Journal