Pocket - A “robot” doctor told a patient he was dying. It might not be the last time.

                                        Doctors must use good judgment in using telemedicine tools.

The rapid influx of advanced technology is changing the practice of medicine — at times for the better, but sometimes for the worse. Nowhere is this more apparent than a story where a physician told a fatally ill man in a Fremont, California, hospital that he was dying via video chat on a screen attached to a robot. The news should serve as a wake-up call to the medical establishment on the limits of technology.

The patient, 78-year-old Ernest Quintana, was sitting in his hospital room when a “telepresence robot” — or a mobile robot with a video screen that live-streams a physician in another location — rolled in and informed him that there was nothing that could be done to treat him. Quintana, who had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, was with his granddaughter and a nurse when he was told his options for managing pain at the end of his life. The granddaughter, shocked at this bombshell dropped from a disembodied robot, filmed part of the encounter, which subsequently went viral online. Mr Quintana died the following day.

Yet a knee-jerk reaction may distract us from looking at the big picture. Just like any medical technology, digital health can be an excellent tool for better, patient-centered care. But it also comes with risks that could erode the practice of medicine, especially for patients who might already have limited access to health care resources and physicians.

The promise of digital technology — when used appropriately — could in fact allow doctors to be more humane. Eric Topol, a cardiologist, and the author argues this persuasively in a just-published book, Deep Medicine: How Artificial Intelligence Can Make Healthcare Human Again. For example, doctors are forced to spend much of their time interacting with patients taking notes. But if advanced transcription services could transcribe and document complex discussions between patients and their caregivers, this could not only open up time for doctors to spend being present with their patients, it could give patients a literal voice in their own medical record. Artificial intelligence could and should successfully offload inane repetitive tasks from physicians and could provide them the time to look their patients in the eye, rather than eyeing the computer screen.

The most critical issue is for digital health to allow providers to give face to face time to their patients where robots or artificial intelligence cannot.

Pocket - A “robot” doctor told a patient he was dying. It might not be the last time.