NROP: Robots; How far can they go? Where are the boundaries?

This is not the first post about robots on this blog. If you missed the previous ones, I encourage you to click HERE to read about robots in the world of shopping, and HERE to find out more about robot courtesans.

While there are some people who are equally on alert as I, many people seem to be mostly OK with robots taking over various fields of our lives. Yes, they might be faster. Yes, they might make things more convenient. Yes, they eliminate the need for small talk and fake smiles. However, I feel like this is one of many things that we dismiss as not a big deal until it will be too little too late.

Would you like to know what happened that prompted me to write this post? A robot read out a death sentence to a man. OK, well, it was not exactly like that. A man in his late 70s had recently been a patient at one of California’s hospitals. The patient’s granddaughter had been sitting by his side when a nurse wheeled in a robot equipped with a screen and an audio system. I can only assume that there was a camera somewhere in there, too, but I cannot confirm.

The doctor visible on the screen told the patient that he only had a couple of days to live. The man died the next day.

The progress in medicine and technology is truly staggering. (At least in some fields.) However, sometimes it feels like we are so blinded by the advancements that we lose sight of anything else.

If you know a nurse who works on the inpatient floors, chances are you know how short-staffed hospitals often are. A single nurse is assigned multiple patients. A few years back I have heard of Remote Patient Monitoring,  which means exactly what it says – a person watches you through a camera, while they are somewhere else other than with you. The goal was to help the spread out nurses focus on the most important things, while the Big Brother (or Sister, or…?) watches over the rest, notifying the nurse of anything urgent.

A nurse does not have limitless powers, so the RPM might come in handy in situations when snap decision making is needed. Say a nurse is with a patient in room 1, while a patient from room 15 (15 was chosen for dramatic purposes, because usually the nurses are assigned rooms near one another.) sleeps. Suddenly, 15’s breathing and blood pressure are all over the place, which notifies the remote staff, they “look” at what is going on, page the nurse and while they are both “in the room”, a specific medication is prescribed and a crisis is averted.

It is meant to save time.

Be more efficient.

And most of all, be cost-effective.

A single doctor can sit in the comfort of their own home, yet be “present” and “practicing” their occupation in hospitals located in different states. How cool is that?

In theory, it sounds very cool. If the hospital has to pay less to their staff, the patients’ medical bills will go down. However, medical professionals are upset with such a turn of events, worrying that such technology can make their positions redundant. They argue that not everything can be seen and felt through the machines.

The other thing that is missing in this whole process is exactly what the essence of this post is about – human interaction.

For a doctor, giving bad news to the patient/ their families is possibly the worst part of their jobs. Many struggle with it. Many choose “safe” fields to limit those difficult discussions. Most of us cannot just say: “Oh, yea, you are going to die tomorrow” without feeling empathy. Yes, it can get easier with time, but the pinch in your heart and its sinking cannot be eliminating. Aside from feeling bad for the patient/ their family, you also worry about yourself. One can never be certain of how people will react. Some people get violent.

In the case of the deceased man from California, the lack of the human factor is the family’s biggest gripe. The VP of the hospital defends themselves by saying that there was a human doctor involved the whole time along the way leading up to the end. That the diagnosis was previously discussed with the family. That what the robot-doctor said was nothing “new”. The family does collaborate that side of the story.

“I could tell by the look on his face what that did to him” – said the granddaughter. That is devastating to watch, indeed. People always have hope. Even if serious terms are tossed around. But when the final “sentence” comes, it is brutal. You can never be prepared for that. The wife of the deceased patient complained that she was not by her husband’s side when he got the news. She and her daughter left the hospital to go rest, thinking that there were not going to be any more updates that day, leaving the granddaughter behind. Unfortunately, you cannot always time the doctor’s visit to your room. And they do and try to tell you as early as they find out. Having had made the announcement, the robot gave the family a chance to come back and say their goodbyes. Otherwise, if they waited for the “real” doctor to come in and round the next day, they might have not made it in time. 

The time of death is a difficult time for all involved. The patient/ family, as well as the staff. People grieve differently. There will always be someone dissatisfied with how things are handled.

We seem to be very accepting of robots in our everyday lives because they make our life more convenient. But where does it end?

How would you feel if a robot told you-you were dying?

Stay golden,

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26 thoughts on “NROP: Robots; How far can they go? Where are the boundaries?

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  1. Well, I’m all for robots in industries where automation is needed such as car building, and I also think robots are great for monitoring patients in hospitals, but where the whole thing falls down is using a robot in a situation where human empathy is required. Which I think is the whole point of your post. A robot, even one with fantastic ai, doesn’t have empathy, so in any situation where human emotion is involved then I think human compassion also need to be involved…

    Liked by 3 people

    1. There is this huge debate about touch in medicine. Whether it’s appropriate for the doctor to touch a patient when they’re trying to reassure them, or give comfort. Personally, I’m not one to crave that, but I believe that it can make a big difference for some. A robot cannot touch you in that way.

      Like

  2. “There will always be someone dissatisfied with how things are handled.” I think this is the bottom line. If the family had had to wait for the “real doctor” to come in, and it had been too late to say their goodbyes, they would have been extremely unhapppy about it. If the hospital had more doctors putting in more time on fewer patients, they would have complained about the higher bills. Fewer doctors with more patients would mean exhausted, possibly inefficient doctors (Yes, they’re human, too, and they need rest as much as the rest of us.) There is no perfect answer here. Or maybe there is.
    For me, the answer is to be prepared for death and have my family prepared for my death. Everyone in my family knows that I am confident that Jesus, who rose from the dead (!), will raise me, too, and I don’t fear death, although like Woody Allen, “I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” 😉 In the Christian faith a funeral is (or should be) a celebration not only of this life, but even more, of the life to come. The hope we have should transcend whatever circumstances surrounded the exact moment of death. (I say “should,” but then I’m not there yet.)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m not there yet, either, but I like to think that my perspective is like yours.
      I’ve been in a situation when a nurse let something slip before we (the family) was able to have a conversation with the patient. It caused… A LOT of upset. It actually might have changed the last moments dramatically. I will never know. But you know what? I didn’t make a huge problem about it. It wouldn’t have changed anything. Of course, I explained later to the nurse what happened and she was very apologetic, but in the end, she didn’t “do” anything wrong. It’s about focusing on what’s important.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I can be scary to think that robots are used to replace the humans in fields such as care. They are useful for the household or in the industry like someone said earlier, but I don’t feel comfortable with the place that they ate being given in all aspects of life.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. People always say that we, as humans, are the creators, so we shouldn’t fear the robots, but I have always been skeptical. Maybe I’ve seen too many movies, or maybe I have a wild imagination. Or maybe I just see what’s going around.

      Like

  4. Well…. If there was a doc in the robot such as in a screen, I would believe him. But if the robot speaks on his own, I’m not so sure. Robots can have more knowledge than humans but… There is always a doubt

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I would seek a second opinion and not give up! Wow. Scary. The lack of humans is approaching and here… and… it’s scary! It is necessary, with the times that we are in, (with regard to everything having to be so efficient) but it is still scary.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Between the scale and the blood pressure cuff…all that is required is a speaker. We all die eventually and we cannot pick our parents.

    Yeah, perhaps it is a little too sterile to inform a person that they will die soon. But I couldn’t imagine being that nurse.

    The good thing about dying is that you no longer have to deal with your problems anymore. They become other people’s problems, morbid perhaps, but true nonetheless.

    Robots will come and they will need to be serviced. I don’t think people will ever become obsolete. Even the persons who invented the guillotine eventually died.

    Liked by 1 person

  7.     When robots wear disguises people are not afraid. However, they should be afraid. A stereotypical robot from science fiction has a computer housed in a humanoid body and are scary. But actually, it is the computer that is the source of terror. If you just re-classify the jargon then you can say(about the recent news), “A robot took control of a plane and crashed it because it falsely believed that the plane was going to stall; it knew better than the human pilot. It “thought” turning the nose down to pick up speed would work to “save” the plane, and it turned the nose down.”
        Here’s the future: IV’s can be automated and so here’s the dialogue:
    ROBOT: “Your vital signs and cat scans don’t look good.”
    Patient: “Is that so? Tell me more.”
    ROBOT: “First, I want to administer the Myers Briggs Personality Test. Please answer the following questions….” etc.
        The robot determines that death is soon and the patient would be amenable to assisted suicide.
    ROBOT: “Good. You pass the test. I will release a lethal poison into your IV. You will be dead in 5 seconds. Press 1 to abort. Press 2 to call a nurse robot. Press 3 to write a will. ”
    Patient: “Um, uh, I’m not able to press…”
    ROBOT: “Response not understood. Destruct in 2 seconds…”
    Patient: “wait”
    ROBOT: “One”
    Patient: “um”
    ROBOT: “Zero. Nose down and flight is successful.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That was an amazing skit. Funny, but frightening, for sure.
      Humans aren’t perfect, but there is a reason why “handmade” things are often more beautiful and valuable.

      Thanks for visiting my blog and sharing your thoughts and creativity.

      Liked by 1 person

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Nathan Feiles, MSW, LCSW-R

Psychotherapy & Coaching

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