Disruptive innovation is how new technology sometimes finds its way into our lives. We’ve seen what Airbnb has done to the rental market, what Uber has done to the taxi industry (outside of B.C., that is) and what Amazon is doing to retail outlets.
But what if the same were to happen to a more vital part of society, like health care? Can we afford to let technology run amok?
“That’s a good question. I think you could also ask, can we afford not to?”
Those are the words of Dr. Brian Goldman, emergency room physician, author and host of the popular CBC Radio One series White Coat, Black Art.
Goldman’s thinking is that it’s time for disruptive innovation to take hold in health care. That will be the subject of his talk at Thompson Rivers University on Feb. 27 as part of the student union’s Common Voices lecture series.
The ER doctor said that disruptive innovation in medicine might mean a change in personnel — or at least how personnel spend their time.
“There’s a lot of fossilized thinking in health care that says you need to have a physician to do all kinds of jobs to that can be done by other people with adequate skill for a lot less money — and they’re more available than physicians are,” he said.
Using the example of how ultrasound technology has already changed in medicine, Goldman said that before, an ER doctor would refer patients to the radiology department and a radiologist would do the ultrasound.
But now, ER doctors can do bedside ultrasounds and soon, things may improve even more.
“Very soon, we won’t have to lug around those machines — we’ll have it in our pocket, in some ways like Dr. McCoy’s tricorder,” Goldman said.
The tricorder, a fictional device used in Star Trek that can scan a patient and report their ailments in seconds, is somewhat of a mythical end-game for medical technology.
“I think we could have a working tricorder — I’ll be generous — within 20 to 25 years,” Goldman said.
In the interim, Goldman said we already have machines that can automatically measure, interpret and administer based on biometrics like blood pressure, blood sugar and heart function.
Another example is an app called Peek Retina. The app, paired with a snap-on ophthalmoscope, turns a smartphone into something capable of taking close-up photos of a patient’s retina that can be used by an ophthalmologist for diagnosis.
Goldman said that soon, the ophthalmologist might not even be a part of that diagnosis.
“I can tell you the next step beyond that is to send that image to an AI-enabled computer that uses deep learning to figure out what the diagnosis is,” he said.
That kind of disruption might sound worrying to those working in the medical field, but Goldman said he doesn’t think anyone needs to be worried.
“I don’t think we will reach the point where your doctor is a robot or simply a computer. We will want computers to be supervised and a human being to say ‘that doesn’t make sense,’” he said.
He used the example of Dr. Shiraz Moola, an ob-gyn in Nelson, who works alongside midwives and family physicians. Because he’s paid on salary and not on a fee-for-service model, he spends his time with the most challenging of patients — those with complicated pregnancies and labours.
Goldman said Moola smiled at him and said, “I get paid to think.”
“That’s what I teach people who are afraid their jobs are going to be threatened by technology. Don’t get paid to do. Get paid to think,” Goldman said.
The event is free to attend, but tickets are required. Pick them up at the TRUSU service desk in the Students’ Union Building on the TRU campus.
Goldman will take the podium at 7 p.m. in the Grand Hall of the Campus Activity Centre.