They say knowledge is power, but are there things we’d rather not know?
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston has developed a machine that can predict the probability of a patient’s death. It’s a supercomputer that monitors all of the patients at the facility and has been collecting data for more than 30 years with information from over 250,000 patients. This computer can give updates on a patient’s status, diagnose illnesses and anticipate the likelihood of death with 96% accuracy.
Dr. Steve Horng, an emergency room physician, is the team leader at Beth Israel for research and development of this supercomputer, along with other new technologies being applied in the medical field. "If the computer says you're going to die, you probably will die in the next 30 days.” Dr. Horng reported soberly. While this may be very disturbing news as a patient, this technology also arms a doctor with a better chance for intervention.
“Our goal is not to replace the clinician,” Dr. Horng assured the BBC. “The artificial intelligence is really about augmenting a doctor’s ability to take care of patients.”
With this advanced technology, doctors can quickly identify diseases, which will allow for quicker cures. Every three minutes, the program receives updates from the patient such as oxygen levels and blood pressure. Dr. Horng told the Daily Mail, “The big picture is that we're trying to harness the power of big data. If you come in, we can take everything we know about you, both in your current visit and previous visits. We can compare that to other patients with similar conditions, and predict diagnoses you might have in the future.”
Beth Israel wants to inspire the rest of the medical community to embrace this technology and explore how far they can take it. Paired with the supercomputer is Google Glass, the hands-free eyewear that allows a user to communicate with the internet via voice commands. Google Glass allows doctors to access files without having to first search through cabinets of paperwork. Dr. Horng explained to the Daily Mail, “Rather than having to excuse myself, it means I can quickly access that information without having to interrupt the patient, lose eye contact, or even leave the room.”
Dr. Horng recounts an incident where a patient needed certain medications to stop a brain hemorrhage. Under traditional methods, the doctor would have had to choose between taking precious time to request the patient’s file to determine any contraindications with those medications or having to administer those medications without that knowledge. With Google Glass, however, the doctor was able to determine instantly that the patient was allergic to a particular drug and able to modify the procedure accordingly. The seconds saved could mean the difference between life or death.
Some fear what technology like this could mean for the world of medicine. Will patients deemed terminal receive less care from physicians? Does training medical staff on this new technology, which is already expensive, prove cost-prohibitive or divert funds from other medical applications? And might technology such as Google Glass compromise a patient’s privacy? To help alleviate concerns, Beth Israel now requires its built-in camera to remain off at all times.
On the other hand, the computer could help identify diseases that doctors might miss. Given the computer's ability to record blood pressure and oxygen levels every three minutes, it can diagnose and calculate disease likelihoods in patients faster than doctors. According to WND, despite this increase in accuracy, the supercomputer is merely an aid at this time to assist medical staff in their daily duties. It remains at a rudimentary stage of development and is not likely to replace a real doctor’s care any time soon, but when it begins to, these and other questions are likely to dominate the discussion of medical ethics and best practices.