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Realities of Man versus Machine Diagnosis

October 13, 2016
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I recently saw an article on a study published in the JAMA online ( that describes a study comparing human diagnosis versus computer-based diagnosis.

Given the continued emphasis in the press on applications such as IBM’s Watson Health applications, it is an interesting question as to who might be better. My impression is that this may be comparing apples and oranges, as the type of computer-based diagnoses the study seems to be referencing may be far less complex than something like IBM’s Watson Health.

It is an interesting phenomenon to think that consumers are beginning to use the Internet for medical diagnostic purposes. I know my healthcare provider has done some research on this question as a precursor to consideration of online interaction prior to scheduling an office visit. This is understandable as healthcare providers try to both improve value-based outcomes as well as reduce costs.

A key question will be how sophisticated the solutions might be in light of the cost. Does this mean there is an opportunity for a few key providers to offer this service over the Internet? I believe that most clinicians would be skeptical of the recommendations of these current simplistic applications. It may be that more sophisticated applications such as Watson Health would improve the confidence level for clinicians who would still ultimately have the final say for their patients.

Another factor is how patients will relate to computer-based interaction. Will they accept the outcome of a computer-based inquiry? Will the result cause them to contact their physician for verification and follow-up? Will they increase patient anxiety? How the systems are set up will, I think, have a great impact on how they are perceived and accepted.

The cost factor consideration for healthcare IT executives will be important in terms of the acceptance level of the technology. It seems that the only realistic approach to this will be some form of cloud-based shared infrastructure that will make it cost-effective for most facilities.

Despite these advances, I think studies like this demonstrate that the human element will always be an important factor in healthcare. Even Dr. McCoy on the Star Trek series had the final say in the treatment of his patients!