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David Plaut: Off the Cuff

Is There a Middle Ground?

Published November 9, 2012 3:18 PM by David Plaut

The author thanks Deena Davis, point of care supervisor at Deaconess Hospital, Bozeman, Mont., for collaboration on this blog. 

"Redefining Medicine with Apps and iPads" is an article by Katie Hafner that appeared in Science Times. The article shows both a new and innovative technology side of medicine as well as the time-honored, hands-on method. The claims are made that technology is taking away a physician's interaction with his patient and that the majority of medical decisions made today are based on findings from analyzers and instruments with little, if any, regard being given to a physical examination.  

Technology will never "replace" a physician. Computers are only as smart as the people who programmed them. The same can be said for laboratory analyzers, EKG instruments and MRI instruments. They all produce results, but an educated person must decide if those results fit the clinical picture. There is no doubt that sophisticated technology plays a major part in modern medicine. The argument can also be made that more patient lives are saved due to this technology. On the other hand, how many patients are misdiagnosed because the provider believed an erroneous lab (or EKG or MRI or x-ray) result over the presenting symptoms?

Why does it have to be one or the other? Lab results or patient symptoms? Shouldn't a diagnosis be made utilizing all of the information available? The young doctor in the article is utilizing a glorified calculator to determine the dose of saline. When physicians begin to rely on a machine to make the diagnosis medicine (and its patients) will be in an overwhelming amount of trouble.  Do we give up all of the technological advances that have been made to aid in diagnosis just to prevent this from happening? Is there not a middle ground using both clinical acumen and technology?

posted by David Plaut

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