What could be wrong with IBM's supercomputer "Watson" helping physicians care for patients?
Before I share my concern, let me be clear:
I welcome the addition of computer-generated analytics to physicians' proverbial black bag containing the diagnostic and therapeutic tools of modern medicine. Computers like Watson provide the only way the vast amount of data recently added to the medical literature becomes available to physicians on the front lines of patient care.
My worry revolves around a potential unintended consequence of physicians' increasing reliance on computers: the devaluation of physicians' compassion.
Medicine is an art based in science. And that art is driven by compassion. Hence my mission statement: Helping others through the synergy of science and caring. As I see it, compassion is essential to high-quality medical care.
A few months ago, I heard a technology enthusiast share her belief that future patients will be better off when they pump their information into a computer that orders the work-up, analyzes the findings, offers a diagnosis and recommends treatment. She described a world where computers do more and more, and physicians are transformed into technicians.
Compelled to defend the essential role of compassion in medicine, I must question something I've always taken as a given. I must ask myself "Why? Why is compassion essential to high-quality care?"