Credit: Screen grab

California Healthcare: Man Informed of His Imminent Death by Robot Doctor

“I didn’t think he’d get his death sentence here.”

A dying California man was informed of his medical fate by a robot, and his family was not pleased.

Ernest Quintana was admitted to Kaiser Permanente hospital in Fremont, California, for a CT scan last Sunday, his third hospital visit in 15 days. Quintana, a 78 year-old with lung disease, was having trouble breathing on his own.

When the results of the scan came back, a robot with a screen at eye-level rolled into the room and a doctor appeared on live stream to deliver the bad news.

“Unfortunately, there’s nothing we can treat very effectively,” he told Quintana.

There had been too too much damage to his lungs.

Quintana’s family was stunned — not just by the revelation — but also by the way it was delivered.

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“I just figured it was routine,” said Annalisia Wilharm, Quintana’s granddaughter. “I didn’t think he’d get his death sentence here.”

To make matters worse, Quintana had trouble hearing the doctor. The robot had been station on the side of his deaf ear, forcing family to repeat the prognosis.

“I wanted to throw up. It felt like someone took the air out of me,” Wilharm said.

Quintana’s daughter, Catherine Quintana, said: “It should have been a human. It should’ve been a doctor who came up to his bedside.”

Ernest Quintana died on Tuesday, two days after being admitted to the hospital.

The incident has joined an ongoing controversy over the growing trend of telemedicine. While experts have said the practice can help expand care to rural areas, critics have cautioned against the dehumanizing impact the technology can have.

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More broadly, concerns about the social impact of technology – much of it created in California’s Silicon Valley – have shaken up American culture and politics.

President Donald Trump was elected in part on a promise to save American manufacturing jobs, which have mainly been lost to automation. Meanwhile, with appeals to socialism on the rise, tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang recently mounted a grassroots Democratic presidential campaign centered on a policy of universal basic income to address the displacement of workers by artificial intelligence.

Dr. Barbara L. McAneny, president of the American Medical Association, said that delivering sensitive information on teleconference should be the “last choice.”

“I just don’t think that critically ill patients should see a screen,” she said. “It should be a human being with compassion.”

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Cover image: Ernest Quintana was told he did not have long to live by a doctor on a robotic screen in Fremont, California, on March 3, 2019. (Screen grab)

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