The Changing Role of the Computer in Medical Diagnosis
As the computer becomes more and more ubiquitous in American society, people must face an array of ethical concerns, from developing cyber security to maintaining a balance between human-computer interactions vs. human-human interactions. The medical field also faces new challenges resulting from the rise of technology, specifically in the field of diagnosis. With increasingly sophisticated and complex artificial intelligence, more and more physicians are relying on technology to aid in their diagnoses.
A prime example of the rise of technology in medical diagnosis is the application Face2Gene. The application, which is available on the Apple App Store, relies on facial recognition software. The user uploads a face of the patient and then Face2Gene conducts a series of calculations to associate the patient’s facial phenotypes with the most probable genetic syndrome1. The application provides unique and useful skills to help diagnose patients in areas in which many physicians are deficient. technology has such a large database of diseases and their associated signs/symptoms, while the human brain can only contain a limited amount of information. This larger “bank” of diseases and disorders increases the probability that the patient receives a successful diagnosis. Additionally, some cases involving diseases that are so rare that physicians would never think to diagnose it. While it is understandable to overlook a rare disease when making a diagnosis, the consequences of doing so can be dire. This ramification of human oversight ties in very nicely to the value of artificial intelligence in diagnosis ; technology only evaluates the symptoms at hand and empirically determines all possible causes2. In other words, it does not consider population trends and frequency of disease across a large time period; it treats each patient as an isolated incident.
Even though technology has some value in being able to cross-reference a specific case with thousands of known diseases, physicians should be wary of becoming too reliant on computer software when diagnosing a patient. One challenge that all physicians (and computers) face in diagnosis is deciding which symptoms are a direct result of illness, and which are inconsequential. Dr. Gurpreet Dhaliwali, an associate professor of clinical medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, believes that intuition is an invaluable asset in making this critical decision: “Things can shift very quickly in the emergency room. One challenge of this, whether you use a computer or your brain, is deciding what’s signal and what’s noise. Much of the time, it is my intuition that helps figure out which is which”2. Computers still do not have the capacity for critical thinking and decision-making that is required to dismiss some symptoms as unrelated to the patient’s condition, while placing emphasis on other symptoms. As a result, physicians should use technology’s input as a complement or confirmation of their own diagnoses, rather than as a primary means of diagnosis. It will be interesting to see how further advancements in machine learning will change the dynamic between physicians and computer in the hospital setting even more. As computers assume a more prominent role in healthcare, society will face new and unprecedented ethical concerns inside a hospital. However for now, it is fascinating to observe how physicians and other healthcare professionals incorporate modern technology into their everyday tasks in the workforce.
1. Molteni, Megan. "Thanks to AI, Computers Can Now See Your Health Problems." Wired. January 9, 2017. Accessed January 17, 2017. https://www.wired.com/2017/01/computers-can-tell-glance-youve-got-genetic-disorders/.
2. Hafner, Katie. "For Second Opinion, Consult a Computer?" The New York Times. December 03, 2012. Accessed January 17, 2017. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/04/health/quest-to-eliminate-diagnostic-lapses.html.