With a recent announcement made Monday, September 13, 2011, WellPoint, a major health insurance provider with over 34 millions subscribers will be incorporating the use of IBM’s Watson technology in identifying, diagnosing, interpreting and providing the best management and treatment options for patients.
Watson technology is capable of processing about 1 million books or about 200 million pages of content, data and patient information in less than three seconds and be able to analyze the information and provide the most accurate and precise medical response. While a doctor is still sorting out the data that would probably take 30 minutes to 1 hour depending on the case of the patient, this super computer would definitely outmatch a physician in terms of speed in diagnostic analysis.
When asked if this is a case that a doctor will be replaced by machines, Sam Nussbaum, WellPoint’s Medical Chief Medical Officer, sees it more of a collaboration and partnership between man and machine.
The technology is intended more on aiding a physician to identify, diagnose and provide the best management plan based on the collected patient data.
“Imagine having the ability within three seconds to look through all of that information, to have it be up to date, scientifically presented to you, and based on that patients’ medical needs at the moment you’re caring for that patient,” – WellPoint’s chief medical officer told the Associated Press.
The company also added that with this technology they can help improve the quality of patient care considering the increase in malpractice suits with doctors’ misdiagnoses and mismanagement.
So with the advancement of this technology, the question we might be asking ourselves now is will this lead to a future where medical professionals are super computer dependent or even worse, will patients be dependent on machines and asking them to identify what’s making them sick and how to treat them.
We may also be asking ourselves if this will be more beneficial or more of a problem. Well for one, I am worried that this will make more lazy doctors as they will depend more on computers to do their damn work. Secondly, as medical professionals rely on the data provided by these machines, it’s a question of how accurate these machines are in providing diagnosis and treatment to patients and thereby creating a possible risk of mismanagement. Lastly, we are talking about lives of patients and to put them in the hands of machines would definitely keep our doubts in check. Although the final diagnosis and treatment will still depend on doctors, we’ll still have to see if the benefits of this technology will outweigh the risks. The technology is planned to be operational early next year.
One thing though for sure than can never be replaced by this technology and that is the care of a real doctor who would go out their way just to make sure their patients are well taken care of. We may sometimes forget that treating patients require not just basing it on a book or a super machine for that matter but it takes human understanding and compassion to see through a person’s illness.
* Learn more about Watson here.