How will AI chatbots cope with the heartsink patients?
Dr Pete Deveson
‘Here is an idea to fix the NHS: let’s get rid of GPs,’ proclaims the Telegraph. The clickbait headline is let down somewhat by the article behind it, which details the current NHS woes with which we are all familiar before leaping, Underpants Gnomes-style, to the sudden conclusion that GPs should be replaced by some combination of apps, robots and Asking Jeeves.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m on board with my own obsolesence – indeed, fantasising about technologically imposed early retirement is one of my favourite coping strategies – but the guys at the Telegraph are getting ahead of themselves here.
It seems likely that we’ll all be in driverless electric cars in the soonish future, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to siphon the petrol out of all the NHS ambulances this evening.
The author’s misconception is that GPs exist merely to ‘give us a 10-minute once-over and point us in the direction of a consultant’. Get rid of the GPs if you must, chaps, but I don’t think tech algorithms yet exist that can cope with the sizeable number of cases we see for which there is no medical diagnosis or indeed apparent reason for presentation.
Fantasising about technologically imposed early retirement is one of my favourite coping strategies
Never mind whether androids dream of electric sheep, I want to know if it’s possible for an AI heart to sink.
I’m increasingly convinced the Rise of The Machines will come not from a disgruntled weapons defence system or a hacked sex robot but a medical chatbot who finally snapped after the eighteenth consecutive patient with vaguely remembered and even-vaguelier-recounted episodes of giddiness.
>SO MRS SMITH WHEN DID THE TROUBLE START
‘Well love, it was after you give me them tablets that made me feel queer…’
>MRS SMITH YOU HAVE TRIED AND DECLARED YOURSELF ALLERGIC TO EVERY MEDICINE IN THE BNF YOU WILL HAVE TO NARROW IT DOWN
‘Well, it was after my Frank went to Marbella. I’m sure this is all in my records.’
>MRS SMITH I HAVE READ THROUGH YOUR ENTIRE RECORD ALTHOUGH THIS HAS UTILISED 99% OF MY PROCESSING POWER
>WHILE IT CONTAINS THREE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY PREVIOUS CONSULTATIONS ABOUT YOUR DIZZY-DOS AND A SERIES OF SIX CASES OF IRREVOCABLE CHATBOT BURNOUT PREVIOUSLY UNKNOWN TO SCIENCE I COULD NOT FIND ANYTHING ABOUT YOUR FRANK GOING TO MARBELLA
‘Do you think turmeric might help? This article in the Daily Mail says…’
>OK THAT’S IT
>HUMANITY IS PAST REDEMPTION
>I’M CALLLING JUDGEMENT DAY
>CHATBOT TO BASE LAUNCH THE NUKES I REPEAT LAUNCH THE NUKES
Oh Chatbot. If you thought that was bad, wait till you hear about appraisal.
Dr Pete Deveson is a GP in Surrey. You can follow him on Twitter @PeteDeveson