Where is Medicine Going?
Like most other professional fields, medicine is also moving towards more and more technological advancement. Starting out from basic medical equipment, science and technology have caused major breakthroughs in the field of medicine. Apart from the breakthroughs that are of common knowledge to people, such as the development of CT scans, new drugs and antibiotics, transfusion of platelets to prevent bleeding, etc, technology has now paved the way for patients to start interacting with robots rather than human doctors. Doctors are now trained using virtual simulations rather than traditional classroom lectures or practical demonstrations. Stem cell research has opened new avenues of curing numerous diseases. Thus, technology in medicine has been benevolent in many ways. However, there are many dangers and threats posed by this rapid technological advancement. This paper analyzes the pros and cons of the direction that modern medicine is headed towards.
Examples of Medical Technology
Information technology is revolutionizing how doctors treat their patients. Now, pharmacies have become more than behind the counter medicine providers. Devices such as PDAs which they can carry with them everywhere give them up to date information about the latest medical advancements, based on which they can diagnose patients, and this diagnosis would be as good as one given by a physician (Yates, 2006).
Moreover, some hospitals are now beginning to use robotics for diagnosis. These robots have programs installed which match symptoms to various diseases, and based on these matches they can diagnose a patient. The programs installed also enable them to ‘learn’; new information can constantly be fed into their memories, so the robots remain up to date with any new diseases or symptoms.
Robots are also replacing humans on “rounds” taken by doctors. Traditionally, the patient’s doctor would take rounds as a daily routine, to check on how the patient’s recovery is going and to see what the latest update on his health is. Now, the doctor can use a robot for this purpose. It has now become possible for the doctor to navigate the robot using a laptop and joystick to check up on patients, and conduct video conferences with them (Robison, 2006).
Virtual simulations are also now being used to treat patients suffering from psychological problems. For example, people suffering from post traumatic stress disorders are immersed in a 3 dimensional virtually simulated replay of the event which caused their disorder, in order to desensitize them towards the event. This is being used on some army officers on their return from the Iraq War. A virtual simulation can exactly replicate the scenario in Iraq, enabling the patients to re-visit their trauma as a first step to address their psychological problems. Such virtual simulations are being used both to treat patients, as well as to train doctors treating patients suffering from such illnesses (Your2ndPlace.com).
Modern technology is also transforming the way medical students are being trained and educated. Instead of getting firsthand experience with human patients, they are being made to practice on robots which have been programmed to demonstrate the same vitals as a human being (Hanks, 2006).
Advantages of Medical Technology
Modern technology has helped in making improvements in medicine such that chances of death have been significantly reduced. In the US, life expectancy for male babies in 1960 was 66.6 years. In 2004, this figure rose to 75.2. Similarly, life expectancy for female babies in 1960 was 73.1 years. In 2004, this rose to 80.4. Technological advances in medicine have accounted for most of this increase (Altman, 2006).
For example, medical technology has been successful in reducing death caused by coronary heart disease and consequent heart attacks. Angiogram X-rays to detect clogged arteries, the subsequent angioplasty procedure to unclog the arteries, and the usage of stent devices to keep arteries open is what modern medicine offers heart patients today. These solutions were not available to people some 50 years ago, when death rate due to heart disease was considerably higher than what it is today (Altman, 2006).
Disadvantages of Medical Technology
Modern medicine, driven by rapid technological advancements, is sometimes extremely controversial. One of the biggest examples of this is stem cell research. With advanced technology, it is now possible to extract stem cells from embryos and, by conducting various lab tests and research, proponents hope to use these cells to battle diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and various other ailments.
However, the ethical considerations are oppositions are many, for one thing, to extract stem cells from embryos means abortion of the unborn child. Also, opponents claim stem cell research leads to cloning, and the creation of life is something which should be left in God’s hands rather in the hands of doctors and scientists.
Similarly, other advances in technology can also be challenged, Using robots to conduct rounds and to check up on patients does away with the humane aspect of medicine. Patients are deprived of the comfort of having a human being keeping a constant check on them. Especially patients of old age might be uncomfortable and resist such advancements which require them to interact with a robot rather than a ‘real’ doctor. Even having medical students practice on robots instead of human patients can be challenged; does this really give the student a true experience of what treating a patient is all about?
The Way Forward
In the 21st Century, modern technology has opened new avenues in all walks of life. And in all these walks of life, has posed some sort of ethical dilemmas. Modern medicine is no exception to this. As discussed above, technology has helped reduce chances of death, and helped patients recover from diseases that were impossible to recover from some 50 to 60 years ago. At the same time, it has posed new challenges as well.
I believe that the way forward should be to promote more research in the field of medicine, so as to let technological advancement flourish even more. Thus far, it has brought more benefit to society than harm. Modern information technology provides a wealth of information and new avenues of research, and these resources should be tapped into to benefit society at large.
However, I do believe that technology should not be used to replace the humane aspect of medicine. Thus, information resources can be used to enhance knowledge and introduce cures for diseases, but the humane aspect of practicing medicine should remain intact.
We have come a long way from where we began when science was questioned by religion. Even now we have making new discoveries and inventions of a regular basis that will definitely change the very face of our existence in the future. The way is forward with utmost commitment and belief!
Altman, L.K. (2006). So Many Advances in Medicine, So Many Yet to Come. Web.
Hanks, J. (2006). High Tech Medicine. Web.
Robison, M. (2006). Digital technology changing face of modern health care delivery.
Yates, F. (2006). Modern medicine: New tools further pharmacists’ roles in hospitals.
Your2ndPlace.com. (2007). Virtually Trained, Virtually Treated.