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Views And Reviews Primary Colour

Helen Salisbury: Did you save any lives today?

BMJ 2019; 364 doi: (Published 02 January 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;364:k5039

Re: Helen Salisbury: Did you save any lives today?

I completely agree that artificial intelligence will not, at least in the foreseeable future, be able to connect with patients as humans in the way that human doctors can. A robot would not think to give a palliative patient a bag of seed potatoes for his allotment, for example.

However, I do not think it is useful for us to repeatedly reference this fact in our defence, as if doctors and artificial intelligence are opposing forces in some battle. I too want the best for my patients and I really think AI augmentation of my work would help achieve that.

I work as an FY1 on a busy gastro ward and I rarely get chance to speak to patients in any meaningful way. This has taken a lot of the joy from my work and leaves patients uninformed and unhappy.

Every day I spend roughly 40 minutes clicking through each of our 21 patients, checking for abnormal blood results, analysing trends, prescribing the odd bit of sando-K and then printing off relevant tests for the following morning. Imagine a robot which could carry out these tasks instead and just provide me with a summary of its actions and important results to be aware of. This would allow me to spend 30 minutes of that time with my non-english speaking patient who is dying of metastatic lung cancer, working with a translator to actually get to the bottom of what is causing the pain I see, so I can properly help.

The same principle holds in GP land. Wouldn’t it be great if the 24-year-old who has a simple UTI, and can not afford the time off work to come to the GP, could talk to a chatbot in order to obtain an antibiotic prescription? You could then have 20 minutes rather than 10 to spend with somebody who really needs that time.

Competing interests: No competing interests

13 January 2019
Louise Whitton