Computer-based diagnostic systems are widely regarded as having only a supportive role in assisting physicians make diagnostic decisions. Continuing progress in the design of diagnostic software, however, may not only produce systems which have heuristic and consultative value, but which may render the traditional role of the physician as a ‘polyfunctional practitioner’ obsolete should it become feasible to replace practitioner-dependent diagnostic skill with more accurate, reliable and cost-effective computer-based programs. Should the implementation of such programs prove to be both a more practical and beneficial alternative than continuing to rely upon the exercise of practitioner-specific diagnostic skill, it would be unethical if the traditional role of the physician qua diagnostician were not phased out and supplanted by a more modular approach to medical decision making.

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