Smart technology and healthcare: why do we only hear about the incredible tech possibilities?

If you’d visit a doctor for a consult, your doctor could be asking its computer to diagnose your symptoms. The computer would use big data from the cloud to make a diagnosis.

One famous example of a computer that can do that, is the supercomputer ‘Watson’ from IBM. Watson had its first public performance in a popular American TV show in 2011. In the show the knowledge of the candidates is tested: the one who is quickest in providing the right answer, round after round, wins. This time Watson was one of the three candidates, now that the team behind the supercomputer thought it would be smart enough to be contesting in the show. And it was: Watson won.

Although this is awesome, this was obviously not the goal of developing Watson, it was merely a test to see where the developers were standing with respect to Watson’s smartness. Now that it had won the show, the next step could be taken: the supercomputer specialized – amongst others – in health care. It was nourished with incredible amounts of medical research, case studies, and so on. Now, in 2013, the supercomputer is able to make medical diagnoses better and more efficient than doctors can: it is faster and has more medical knowledge than any doctor has.

Techies are very enthusiastic about the potential of these developments, about how this will help medicine as a professional field, how it will improve diagnosis, and therefore treatment. But the use of big data and cloud computing will not only change the way medical specialists perform their jobs. Two examples: in the US, costs for medical schooling can add up to $230.000,-. Will the traditional ‘business model’, of investing a lot of time and money to get a challenging career with high status and authority, still be sustainable in the light of the ongoing computerization of the medical field?

Next, what effect will these technological developments have on the global healthcare agenda: will they bridge or rather enlarge the gap between rich medical practices and the ones with a lack of access to IT? Will the computerization of medicine increase the availability of medical knowledge, or will it make the access to medical knowledge more expensive and more complicated?

I think the debate on the introduction of new, smart technologies in healthcare needs to be broadened. By not only considering the technological possibilities, or the way the daily work of doctors will change, but by also looking at the broader context, including the impact it will have on the global healthcare agenda, and the ‘business model’ of making high investments to become a medical specialist.

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2 responses to “Smart technology and healthcare: why do we only hear about the incredible tech possibilities?

  1. the idea of using a computer to aid in making a diagnosis is not new. when hand held PDA’s came out in the 90’s i was one of the first to download epocrates to mine to aid me in making the most informed diagnosis if a particular patients symptoms or problems were complex or hadnt responded to my treatment.
    it is a expected outcome that as more and more data and information has become available in the ‘cloud’ that we as physicians will utilize it more often. in addition it brings the input and thinking from doctors all over the globe together in one place to share and search for helpful information or differential diagnosis.
    but will a computer/ or cloud computing ever replace the value of face to face contact (even if through an online skype/video ) with a real physician or mid level care provider? i dont think so in my opinion and pray it never does. patients are all so different and 90% of the art of medicine is taking an accurate history which frequently requires getting patients to open up or share that one last symptom that they either forgot or were afraid to share for a variety of reasons. it can actually make the difference between life in death in some cases.
    i fully embrace the future of what cloud sharing offers all of us in any business or occupation. But there will still be no way to improve on the Marcus Welby MD ‘model of medical practice’ imho. mrh Family Practice MD Ks USA

    • Thank you for your comment!
      I agree with you that smart computing won’t be replacing doctors. In the time coming, technology will keep changing -amongst others- the way a diagnosis is made and the way the right treatment is chosen. But the need to fine-tune or to double-check the advice given by this technology won’t change any time soon, nor will the importance of the doctor-patient relationship.

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