The replacement of Jeopardy!'s human competitors with a computer algorithm may signal a trend that could soon spread through the health care sector as Obamacare is implemented.
Human brains take in less data than their digital counterparts. "It's a simple fact that most doctors couldn't possibly read and digest all of the latest 5,000 research articles on heart disease," Khosla writes. "In fact, most of the average doctor's medical knowledge is from when they were in medical school, and cognitive limitations prevent them from remembering the 10,000+ diseases humans can get."
As the amount of information increases--there's more research, and more sensors to collect it--digital support processing the data could be a big help.
Khosla predicts that computers will take over large portions of the medical process, leaving humans to do empathic tasks, such as reassuring and coaching patients. The beginnings of that trend are here already. Several start-ups offload doctors' tasks onto computers; EyeNetra, which Khosla has invested in, uses software and a device that attaches to a smartphone to determine the strength of prescription lenses a patient requires.
This summer, the National Institutes of Mental Health funded a round of grants to explore using mobile devices to treat mental health problems. Akili Interactive, a video-game maker that received NIMH funding, combines tasks that require fine motor skills and visual attention. The games "actually become a very sensitive measure of cognition," company cofounder Eddie Martucci said at a May conference. Akili is also hoping to treat major depressives, who tend to struggle with problem solving. Solving problems in a game might condition these patients to better solve problems in real life, without a doctor's intervention.
Other algorithmic software aims to aid physicians' decisions rather than replace them. "Clinical decision support software" analyzes data, often from a patient's electronic health records, and advises doctors as they prescribe a treatment course. The software could note, for example, that two drugs shouldn't be administered together due to their harmful interactions.
Software can also be used to improve doctors' adherence to clinical guidelines. The HealthPartners hospital system in Minnesota found limited success with a software tool that showed doctors how well their order of a scan for a patient stacked up to American College of Radiology guidelines. The tool brought only modest increases in the doctors' ordering of evidence-based scans, according to a study published in theAmerican Journal of Managed Care in 2010, but there were no incentives for the doctors to order more of these appropriate tests. Hospitals could offer more rewards to ensure adherence to best practices.