Would You Like to Hear “You’re Dying” from a Robot?

Telemedicine is a wonderful thing, extending the care available at top flight hospitals to people too far away to access that care in person. The applications of telemedicine are many: my UW health system offers a video chat with a physician if I’m not able to get in the car and drive to a neighborhood clinic or urgent care.

But is it a suitable way to tell an old man that he is dying?

Granddaughter Annalisia Wilharm, 33, was alone with Quintana when a nurse popped in to say a doctor would be making his rounds. A robot rolled in and a doctor appeared on the video screen. Wilharm figured the visit was routine. She was astonished by what the doctor started saying.

“This guy cannot breathe, and he’s got this robot trying to talk to him,” she said. “Meanwhile, this guy is telling him, ‘So we’ve got your results back, and there’s no lung left. There’s no lung to work with.”’

Wilharm said she had to repeat what the doctor said to her grandfather, because he was hard of hearing in his left ear and the machine couldn’t get to the other side of the bed.

“So he’s saying that maybe your next step is going to hospice at home,” Wilharm is heard saying in a video she recorded of the visit. “Right?”

“You know, I don’t know if he’s going to get home,” the doctor says.”

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/mar/09/california-robot-tells-grandfather-dying

Well, that feels terse.

Apparently the elderly man, who subsequently died, did receive his initial diagnosis from a live physician in the room with him. But this news, that nothing more could be done, came from a robot.

I think it’s tacky, and dehumanizing. You?

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