Software Programs Help Doctors Diagnose, but Can’t Replace Them – NYTimes.com

doctors and computersA good piece on how doctors and software can work together to improve diagnosis and treatment recommendations:

While computers are good at crunching numbers, people are naturally good at matching patterns. To make a decision, physicians must combine logic and knowledge with their pattern-matching instincts….

Thousands of diseases are known, and many are rare. “Low-frequency events are hard to put on the brain’s palette, and that’s part of Isabel’s strength,” Mr. Maude said. “It’s impossible for any one person to remember how each of those diseases presents, because each presents with a different pattern.” ….

“Designing computer systems that work well with incomplete or imprecise information is challenging,” Dr. Lowe said. “Particularly in medicine, where the consequences of defective decision-making may be catastrophic.”

I.B.M.’s Watson for Healthcare has yet to focus directly on diagnosis. The company is working with Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center to teach Watson to interpret clinical information and, eventually, help determine treatment. I.B.M. also recently began a collaboration with Cleveland Clinic to broaden Watson’s analytical capabilities into the area of medicine.

Dr. Martin Kohn, chief medical scientist for I.B.M. Research, is careful to point out that Watson for Healthcare is intended to be “neither omniscient nor omnipotent.” Yet, Dr. Kohn noted, most physicians set aside five hours or less each month to read medical literature, while Watson can analyze the equivalent of thousands of textbooks every second. The program relies heavily on natural language processing. It can understand the nature of a question and review large amounts of information, such as a patient’s electronic medical record, textbooks and journal articles, then offer a list of suggestions with a confidence level assigned to each.

For physicians, Dr. Kohn said, one problem is what he calls “the law of availability.”

“You aren’t going to put anything on a list that you don’t think is relevant, or didn’t know to think of,” he said. “And that could limit your chances of getting a correct diagnosis.”

…. Dr. Dhaliwal said. “You might think you’re in familiar territory, but the computer is here to remind you there are other things.”

Software Programs Help Doctors Diagnose, but Can’t Replace Them – NYTimes.com.

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