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Murray Edwards College
University of Cambridge

School Winner: Machines and the Essence of Healing

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    28 Apr

    Science fact

    Elephants rarely get cancer: less than 5% of captive elephants die of cancer, compared to 20% of humans. Elephant genomes have at least 20 copies of the tumour suppressor, p53, which may explain their low cancer rates relative to humans, who have only one copy. 

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    Winning Entry Sherborne (Tiffany Chan)10C Tiffany Chan (Sherborne)What will medicine be like in the future?  The first thing that comes to mind is that patients will no longer need to travel to hospital as doctors would be able to diagnose them remotely. Operations will, perhaps, be performed by robotic surgeons instead of doctors.  Patients will be able to self-diagnose by the applications on their smartphones and get prescriptions from ‘digital doctors’. However, the obvious question is whether computerisation will only have a positive effect on our health care system.

    In recent years, there has been a surge in gadgets and devices developed in the medical field. At the push of a button, we are able to keep track of our health at the molecular level, with devices such as The Cue and Scanadu ScoutTMallow allowing us to monitor our blood pressure level, testosterone level and other vital information by simply taking a sample. Moreover, a programme called DXplain, has been designed to differentiate diseases for doctors by just entering the symptoms.  Needless to say, these innovations have brought us into a whole new world of medicine.

    The revolutionary age of medicine seems to be flawless at first glance, however, are there any drawbacks?   Firstly, these devices can possibly invade the patients’ privacy. Being able to track who is sick and carrying a virus in a community is certainly a ‘hack’ into one’s life. No one can guarantee that the medical records will stay confidential in such a system. Secondly, whose responsibility is it if there is a misdiagnosis? The complete absence of the patient-doctor relationship seems to have been completely forgotten with such advances. Finally, I was asked a question in a career aptitude test, which rather took me aback and got me thinking far more seriously about pursuing a career in medicine. What is the most important skill that a doctor should have, that cannot be replaced by any advanced technology? In my opinion, communication is and always will be the first step of diagnosis.

    Patients need not only the physical healing, but also reassurance.  A machine can never interact with patients.

    Sympathy and encouragement are the basic elements of healing and the human component is essential to the healing process. Technology can aid the diagnostic process but the complex decision-making requires an analytical, empathetic approach which can only be offered by a skilled and experienced practitioner.

    Tiffany Chan
    Sherborne Girls