The Future Of Patient Experience As Robots Replace Doctors

future of patient experience
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Recently, I heard a great interview about the future of patient experience and healthcare with Vinod Khosla.

Khosla is an Indian-American tech billionaire and one of the fathers of the Internet. But he is most famous in the health community for claiming that machines will soon replace 80% of doctors.

As you can imagine, a lot of doctors aren’t exactly impressed by the idea that they will soon be ‘terminated‘ with an Austrian accent. They dismiss it as another Silicon Valley futurist fantasy.

Only time will tell who is right.

But when you listen to Khosla talk, he does make some interesting observations. And his insights offer an intriguing perspective on the future of patient experience.

The Role Of Doctors In The Future

I don’t know about you, but 2018 feels like the ‘future’ to me.

We have talking watches and self-driving cars. A weekend in space could soon be a reality if Sir Richard Branson has his way.

Medicine, too, has taken giant leaps forward.

A short time ago, a US amputee got new arms that he can control with his mind. DNA testing is now available to anybody. Although there’s some controversy about who owns your double-helix code after the test 🙂

And last year, surgeons in the Netherlands performed the first robot-assisted super-microsurgery.

The future is now.

That means that the medical profession will soon need to adapt to a new role whether they want to or not. This point was what caught my attention in Khosla’s interview.

Here’s an edited quote:

“A very large percentage of what doctors do, the technology could do. This would free the doctor to do other things,” says Khosla

He continues, “my view is that doctors should focus on the human elements of care.“

It seems that Khosla doesn’t believe that machines will replace the doctor. Instead, he thinks that automation will change how doctors work.

Another recent study backs up this view.

What Automation Means For Doctors

In 2007, three researchers set out to answer an interesting question: Is the 21st Century GP a physician or a priest?

Every day a waiting room full of people come to share the details of their often unhappy lives. They have the vague hope that doctors will offer some comfort. This comfort could be in the form medication or referral. But in many cases, the only thing the doctors offers is a listening ear and support.

The researchers wanted to know if doctors were filling the roles of priests in old societies. And it turns out that to some extent, they are.

It’s an intriguing idea and one that may be even more relevant today than it was ten years ago. As automation takes care of the technical details, the human touch is vital. But what can a doctor do to improve patient experience outside of treatment?

Research Shows The Future Of Patient Experience Boils Down To One Word


Recent studies show that respect is the key to delivering an exceptional patient experience. Patients who feel ‘respected’ have better outcomes. They also feel more satisfied with the level of care.

The problem is that ‘respect’ is not defined well as a concept. It can mean something different for everyone.

Luckily for us, a group of scientists took the time to survey patients, define what respect means to them. Here is the definition:

Patients believe that respect boils down to the following major elements:

  • Empathy: Taking into account what the other person may be thinking or feeling. For example, what would it feel like if you touched this person with cold hands?
  • Recognition of individuality: Treating a person like a human, not a number. For example, asking how they are feeling, or listening to their concerns.
  • Autonomy: Giving the patient control. For example, telling the patient the risks so that they can make the decision.
  • Information: Keeping patients in the loop. For example, letting a patient know what the doctor is doing and why.
  • Dignity: Treating them as you would like people to treat you. For instance, not assuming a patient is an idiot and doesn’t know what you’re saying.
  • Attention to needs:  If you ask a nurse for some water and she turns her back, it doesn’t make you feel respected, does it?

When you look over this list, they are all very human interactions. A robot can’t show attention to your needs or empathy.

So even if Khosla is right about robots, doctors who show respect and delivering exceptional experience aren’t going anywhere for now. That’s the future of patient experience.

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