Just this morning I read about a “wearable stethoscope” the size of a bandage that can listen to and record heart and lung sounds on a continuous basis. Yesterday I heard about some of the recent advances in home sleep apnea testing technology and how it is impacting polysomnography practice. There are pulse oximeters that now use Bluetooth® to integrate O2 saturation with other measurements (such as temperature and blood pressure) into a smartphone or tablet app. Surgical robots have started to take over some of the more intricate procedures in the operating room, Automatic Dispensing Units (ADUs) have assumed some of the role previously filled by Pharmacists and researchers have already trialed robots that are capable of organizing staffing schedules and finding beds for patients.
It has been predicted that one–third of all existing jobs in the world will be replaced by software, robots, and smart machines by 2025. Automation has already had a tremendous impact on the labour market in general, and healthcare is no exception. I think we can all agree that technology is the driving force behind most of the recent improvements in healthcare, and that –for the most part-it’s a good thing because it has the potential to enable more efficient and accessible patient care. The science of medicine today requires the analysis of massive amounts of complex data, which can arguably be done much faster and more accurately by a computer chip than a human brain. But where does that leave a profession like ours that has its roots deeply imbedded in technology? Will RTs one day be replaced by robots?
As it stands right now, robots can’t make ethical decisions or establish trusting relationships with patients but that could very well change in the not so distant future. Work is already being done to develop humanoid robots that can interpret human body language, read emotional responses and evolve as it learns more about the people they are interacting with. So, it’s hard to say precisely what healthcare tasks will be taken over completely by technology and what will continue to be more effectively performed by humans. The only thing we probably know for sure is that – to continue to survive as a profession – we constantly need to be acquiring new skills that extend beyond our existing technical ones.
It is entirely possible that technological advances will allow RTs to spend even less time gathering routine data and more time providing specialized and individualized care to a wider range of patients will a more diverse range of illnesses. Roles played by other healthcare professionals may in the future be filled by RTs and others who could provide a more cost effective and timely service. And as technology continues to take on more and more of what RTs do now, we will undoubtedly be required to rely a great deal more on other skills like leadership, communication, and innovation