'Jeopardy' Computer Doesn't Belong in a Doctor's Office

jeopardy playing computer watsonRemember Watson, the uber-brainy, IBM-created computer that appeared on Jeopardy last winter? He's got a new gig, and it could land him in hospitals and doctor's offices across the country. Turns out, health insurer WellPoint is pairing up with IBM to use Watson's technology in medical settings, the goal being that the computer will "help doctors with diagnoses and treatment suggestions." WellPoint says it's part of a broad push to involve "computerized guidance" in health care.

Initially, Watson will "work with nurses tasked with managing complicated patient cases," and then it'll "take to oncology practices." Eventually, patients will be able to tap into Watson via an app.


Not only is it insulting to docs and RNs for WellPoint to assume that after however many years of school and practice, they need something that sounds like a WebMD or Google University helping them do their jobs!


But a computer becoming something of a physician's assistant to patients is also terribly troublesome. I can't help but think of 2001: A Space Odyssey! I can just hear Watson now, doing it's best HAL impression: "I'm sorry, Dr. Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that."

Sure, there are definite pros to incorporating more technology into medicine. Screening processes that help with early detection of cancer -- awesome! Or robots that expedite the emergency room check-in process would be sweet. Perhaps tools that help track medical history? Sure, all of those applications make sense. But having a computer make suggestions when it comes to diagnoses and medicines?! That's so obviously a step in the WRONG direction.

We already have a significant problem with so many doctors being so crazy busy that they can barely spend five minutes with most patients! Sure, I've also had physicians who sat down with me and even drew diagrams to help me understand a diagnosis, but sadly, those docs seem to be fewer and further between. More often, you'll get a doc who's in and out, with whom you have to have your questions lined up and ready to fire if you want any further explanation. Can you just imagine a COMPUTER in that equation? Gah!

I don't care how smart Watson is. Having a computer involved in the two most crucial aspects of medicine (diagnosis and treatment) seems like nothing short of an insult to patients. Like all we really need is to be put in a room with an iPad that spits out a generic diagnosis and scripts. We need MORE human-to-human interaction -- not less.

What's more, additional "computerized guidance" in health care sets a dangerous precedent for people to be treated even less holistically, even less as individuals. Maybe it could be helpful for back-up support, but reliance on it seems like a horror movie brought to life.

What do you think about a computer diagnosing you and offering treatment suggestions?


Image via p_a_h/Flickr

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