The Doctor Will See You Now

“I don’t know what the problem is,” Dr. Chen said to Dr. Patel as they looked through the one-way glass window into the examination room. “Objective, detached, super-fast diagnostic times with one-hundred percent accuracy. Yet time and time again, this candidate, Dr. Watson, has failed his clinical exam. Observe.”

The first test patient entered the room. He was a malnourished-looking man with a florid appearance, tiny red veins crossing his nose and cheeks. Dr. Watson rolled to the patient on his aluminum omni wheels. His laser light scanned from the top of the man’s balding head to the bottom of his gout-filled feet.

Dr. Watson, in a monotone with only a slight hint of a mechanoid accent, said, “DIAGNOSIS: ALCOHOLISM. PAIN ORIGINATES FROM LIVER CIRRHOSIS. STOP DRINKING.”

“But Doc—”

“NEXT PATIENT.”

“Can I have a prescription for benzos?”

“NO. ALSO THE DRINKING WILL AGGRAVATE YOUR GOUT. NEXT PATIENT.”

Dr. Patel marked her patient-interaction scoring sheet. “He does lack that—” Dr. Patel wanted to say ‘human touch’ but thought that was too obvious, “—empathetic aspect. What happened to the doctor-patient relationship?”

“Actually,” Dr. Chen said, “that was part of the problem—too many doctors getting into patient relationships. Which was what Dr. Watson was supposed to solve.”

“If Dr. Watson is a robot, how did we designate him as a ‘he’?

Dr. Chen shrugged. “We looked between the wheels.”

The second test patient entered the room. Like the light from a photocopier, Dr. Watson’s laser scanner moved from the top of the patient’s round head, over his rotund belly, down to his bear-like feet. “DIAGNOSIS: DIABETES. SAME ADVICE AS YOUR PREVIOUS APPOINTMENT. WATCH DIET. TAKE EXERCISE. SWALLOW PILLS.”

“But Doc, I’ve been trying so hard—”

“NO, YOU HAVEN’T. YOUR A1C HAS RISEN FROM 7.2% TO 7.8%. YOUR DIABETES HAS WORSENED. DIET. EXERCISE. PILLS.”

The patient’s face turned a tomato red and his hands balled up into fists. “Are you calling me a liar?”

“YOUR CURRENT BLOOD PRESSURE HAS RISEN FROM 140/80 TO 160/95. YOU ARE OVERWEIGHT BY FIFTY POUNDS. YOU HAVE MEDICATION COMPLIANCE ISSUES EXCEPT FOR THE PILLS FOR ERECTILE DYSFUNCTION—”

The patient gave Dr. Watson a huge shove, toppling the machine to the ground.

A red light flashed from the floor. “SECURITY, SECURITY,” Dr. Watson said as the patient stormed out.

Dr. Chen sighed and shook his head. “That’s the third time this week,” he said as he marked a big ‘F’ on the patient-interaction scorecard. “I don’t understand it. He did so well on Jeopardy.”

“I know what Dr. Watson’s problem is,” said Dr. Patel, a triumphant light brightening her eyes. “The problem isn’t that Dr. Watson is a robot. The problem is…is that his patients aren’t.”


Link to the science article that inspired your story:

Prepare Yourselves, Robots Will Soon Replace Doctors In Healthcare