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.