Thursday, November 16, 2006

Google helps to Diagnose Patients

As a one time sufferer of the rare illness henoch schönlein purpura, I'm very familiar with the concern surrounding undiagnosed conditions. In my case it was the 80's and the efforts of a non-medically qualified, but very concerned, mother were more effective than the doctors in diagnosing an illness that aflicts just 14 people per 100,000.

So, I was very interested in how doctors are beginning to embrace the technology of the raging-consumer success that is Google. A British Medical Journal article reports on the success rate of search engines in helping unravel unusual and complex symptoms. Ironically, it is usually professionals that pioneer new technologies which subsequently filter into the high street and home. In this case it's been the reverse. Nevertheless, better late than never.

So, is this the end of doctors? Not really. Using Google, users successfully identified 58% of diseases published from a range of symptoms from The New England Journal of Medicine. It takes a qualified, intelligent human being to take that success rate beyond 80%. The computer is just doing what computers have always done well- to sift through huge amounts of knowledge (in this case pretty much the accumulated medical knowledge of the human race) and present it back in a prioritised fashion. You can't train a human to do that.

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