Doctors and Travel Agents

By | August 5, 2013

Nick Van Terheyden has some interesting speculation about the future of health care in a piece written for fast Company with the title Could The Future Of Health Care Mean No Waits In Hospitals?

He has some interesting ideas. In one scenario, a conversational user interface and SIRI-like assistants help doctors to focus on the patient rather than spending all their time taking notes. In another, empowered and self-monitoring patients begin to play a much more active role in the provision of their own health care. In the third scenario, distance care and automation make it possible for fewer and fewer patients ever to have to show up at the hospital.

These are all viable scenarios, although I’m not sure they go quite as far as they could. Eventually self-care and automation will make it possible to eliminate all but the most serious and complicated treatment scenarios. For most people, most of the time, a doctor will be about as relevant to their medical care as a travel agent is to their travel plans.

For my younger readers, a “travel agent” is an individual who helps you plan a trip, who actually makes a number of the arrangements for you. A travel agent would get you booked on the right flight, get you into the the best hotel for your budget, and make sure that there was a rental car waiting for you when you arrived at your destination.  These days we tend to think of these as tasks that we do for ourselves. In fact, we still use a mediator often as not, but it is usually a set of web tools rather than a human agent. We only have to deal with a human being when things get particularly complicated.

A new generation of technology came along and pushed travel agents out of the loop. Before long, that’s how it will be with doctors. When online systems can assess and diagnose symptoms more reliably than most doctors can, they will. The primary venue for medical care will once again become the home. We will look on the days of driving across town and sitting around a crowded waiting room as a curiosity from the past, one that we will have no desire to bring back.


Photo © Copyright David Hawgood and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence