MedCity CEO: With robot doctors, the “genie is out of the bottle”

By Oliver Smith 11 August 2017

Sarah Haywood believes ‘experimental’ is the new mainstream.

The future of medicine is filled with extraordinarily bold technologies.

We’ve already seen surgical operations conducted over virtual reality, people sequencing their DNA to discover terrifying illnesses, and Googling your symptoms has turned into patients’ self-monitoring and using computers to diagnose their conditions.

All ideas that would have terrified large portions of the medical profession just a few years ago, but now, according to MedCity CEO Sarah Haywood, are increasingly inevitable.

“The genie is already out of the bottle; we can’t fight it. So we have to work with it,” Haywood told The Memo.

Go with the flow

Her organisation, MedCity, is the front door to a vast collaborative effort between the Mayor of London, Imperial College, King’s College London, UCL, Cambridge and Oxford Universities to accelerate and promote the most cutting-edge health technologies.

“Today, on the one hand, we see dozens of tools which allow patients to be much more aware of their symptoms and their own conditions, while, on the other hand, there’s the increasing use of artificial intelligence in more traditional spheres, like pharmaceutical research.”

The driving force behind many of these developments, like Babylon’s digital doctors or Echo’s virtual pharmacy, is ordinary people’s overwhelming open-mindedness when it comes to healthcare technologies.

“We’ve seen that generally, people are extremely willing to just try new things.”

Indeed, according to a MedCity/Populus survey, a whopping 41% of Brits say they’d happily have a microchip installed in their body to monitor their health – something we’ve already seen the start of, with chips that unlock doors and can be used to pay for train travel.

Another 30% would be comfortable with a robot performing invasive surgery on them – a vision ripped straight out of science fiction, but one that is now science fact.

But what about the health care professionals that some of these developments surely seek to augment or replace?

Is there a doctor on board?

“I don’t believe there is a threat to the medical community,” says Haywood. “I don’t think that there’s anything to fear.”

Indeed she says that there will always be a place for pharmacists, doctors and specialists because “at the end of the day, people understand that to be treated and to receive medical treatment, you do need professionals.”

So while our future may be filled with amazing bold technologies, the kind that might send a shiver down your spine today, at least you know there’ll still be a doctor on board to guide the way.