AS A practising patient, I
deplore the almost total disappearance among todayís doctors, of the
soothing bedside manner. In its place has come the brisk deskside
This is a common surgery scenario. In the short time
allotted to explain your latest affliction in a life of sore trials,
ranging from vague malaise to suspected psychosomatic nose bleeds and
often before a spatula has been brandished or a stethoscope flourished,
you are leaving, forgetting to mention your hysterical dandruff, clutching
a prescription slip and being asked to send in the next patient.
Where is the
sympathy, the back-slapping assurance that you could linger on for years,
the looks of patient understanding on doctorsí faces that no matter how
grotesque or ridiculous your complaint, you expect your share of
brightly-hued pills, the crazier the colours the better, and the smile of
welcome to the medical world that says: "We may not be able to cure your
ailment, but we will inquire sympathetically about your symptoms and try
to spell your name correctly."
Many doctors, nowadays, seem to
me to be aged around 14, but I can remember when they were grave, reverend
seigneurs, carrying Gladstone-type bags filled with the tools of their
trade, had the bearing of Old Testament patriarchs and the time not only
to examine patients in their homes but also to discuss, therapeutically,
with them topics that could range from the alleged criminal sloth of the
working classes to the future of homo sapiens in an essentially unhealthy
One conversationally-in-clined medico would
eventually get round to prescribing something for me - invariably a
nostrum tasting like rotten eggs beaten in sea water: patients were tough
then. "This," he would say, beaming to indicate medical humour, "will make
the hair grow on your teeth." It never did, nor did it encourage follicle
growth in my bare, ruined scalp but the lift to my system when I stopped
dosing myself was profound.
Whether young or old, at my
sickbed or in surgeries, where doctors may look asleep but are, no doubt,
listening intently to my hypochondriacal litany, I still have a deep
respect for members of a profession often overworked and all too often
taken for granted in this pill-popping age.
As the demand for treatment
grows in our hard-pressed hospitals, ward visits by doctors may be
augmented by five feet-tall robots, nicknamed Robo-docs, which, on
computer-directed urethane rollers, can trundle from bed to bed, soothing
patients, listening to their symptoms and showing that while patients have
the bedsides, they have the manners.
The robots, already in use in
the United States, are controlled by doctors who might be sitting miles
away but will have their faces seen on the machinesí video-screen heads.
With web-cameras, microphones and speakers, doctors will be able to
examine patients using internet technology.
When one consultation is
finished, the doctor, operating a joystick, in a hands-on, no-touch,
bedside technique, can glide to other patients who can all be monitored
without the need for personal visits by doctors or nurses.
roller-coasting Dr Kildares were invented by InTouch Health Inc, a
Californian robot-ics company. While production is still in its infancy,
the company hopes to lease over 100 robots at around £2,000 a month by the
end of next year.
Although there are no immediate plans to use them in
Britain, the company believes it is only a question of time before they
are lurching around our hospital wards, causing patients, as in a
Baltimore hospital, to sag with laughter and nearly burst their stitches,
bumping into doors and trolleys and, I suspect, lighting up like pin-ball
machines at passing nurses.
The Dalek-looking devices could
be a tonic for depressed patients. I suggest this advertisement: "Out of
sorts? You donít like the way you feel and doctors donít like the way you
look. Let Robo-doc monitor your body, if thatís what you call a body.
will not take your pulse or insert thermometers into you but will
otherwise try to glean what afflicts you and, with its smiling screen
visage, make you feel that you are not a third-rate medical specimen but
are participating in a glorious adventure into the mysterious world of
Next for introduction, electronic ward nurses? The
possibility makes me feel ill. Somebody bring me a bedside manner quickly.