UpFront 2/23

Last week I experienced one of those uncanny moments when a telephone call fixed a problem without anybody actually physically doing anything. My cooker had been making an unhappy noise for a couple of weeks and I decided to phone an engineer and stand beside it so he could hear the sound it was making. When I got through and explained the issue, I knelt down to put the phone next to where the noise was coming from—and it suddenly stopped. It was like that knocking noise in a car engine that simply refuses to happen when there’s a mechanic anywhere nearby. I highlight this because it’s rare that anything similar is fixed without a thorough investigation—which is why a future with the potential of artificial intelligence looking at our health symptoms leaves me uneasy. Health is an important issue at any stage of our lives but obviously increasingly as we get older. Sometimes we use the internet to try to learn more about whatever ails us, but without any real training that can be a disaster—there’s a high chance we may worry ourselves to death. So we hope that our health service and our GP can give us balance. But if a computer algorithm makes decisions and suggestions for treatment, then one of the most powerful medications available to the health industry—that of taking time to listen—is wasted. While I fully grasp the value of, and the need for filtering and triage during a time of stretched resources, I miss that five or ten minute face-to-face chat about ones general health—both physical and mental—that often has a powerful effect. How many times have we gone to see a doctor and miraculously felt better before even ordering the prescribed medicine? There are many occasions when kind words, real concern and gentle probing questions can create a mental state that helps our bodies to heal and make us stronger. Doctors, nurses and health professionals have enormous value to the general wellbeing of a community, and consequently to the economy. But we need more of them. If we really want economic recovery, surely we need to make health services a more attractive career prospect.