Dilbert’s creator offers predictions on robots


by Paul Levy

First posted on (Not) Running a Hospital on 02/07/2013

Paul Levy, Host of (Not) Running a Hospital

Scott Adams, best known for Dilbert, offers a view of how robots will reduce health care costs.  Does he mean it to be humorous or real or both?

Here are some excerpts:

One of the many future benefits of robots will be a dramatic reduction in healthcare costs. In the near term, medical robots will be little more than search engines with excellent eyesight. They will look at your wounds, ask questions about how you feel and then use the Internet to determine a diagnosis and treatment strategy, just as a human doctor does.

Now imagine a future in which household robots are the norm. Your personal robot has far better eyesight than you, incredible pattern recognition for diagnosing problems, and potentially more manual dexterity than you. Your robot might have a keen sense of smell, and it might hear so well that it can detect your pulse. I can imagine all household robots coming equipped with medical sensors as standard equipment, including everything from blood oxygen sensors to shock paddles. Someday the household robot might be capable of handling 95% of all medical problems.

The first surgical robots might cost tens-of-millions. But if a robot can work 24-hours per day without breaks, and robot prices drop with volume, robot surgeons will quickly become competitive with human surgeons who earn big paychecks while working only a third of the day. The biggest savings from robots might be an end to human errors and the resulting reduction in medical insurance premiums, assuming robots make fewer bad decisions.

Robots are the budget wildcard for the next generation. There’s a good chance it won’t matter how much national debt we pile up today so long as robot technology keeps improving. At some point the real cost of healthcare, energy, construction, transportation, farming, and just about every other basic expense will fall by 90% as robots get involved.

So don’t worry about medical costs in thirty years.  By then the phrase “going to the doctor” will sound like a quaint phrase from the past, like churning butter.

Patricia Salber, MD, MBA is the founder and host of The Doctor Weighs In. She is also the CEO of Health Tech Hatch, the sister site of TDWI that helps innovators tell their stories to the world. She is also a physician executive who has worked in all aspects of healthcare including practicing emergency physician, health plan executive, consultant to employers, CMS, and other organizations. She is a Board Certified Internist and Emergency Physician who loves to write about just about anything that has to do with healthcare.