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More on computers, docs and health care's future

(Editor's note: This is the second of two parts. Read Part One.)

Over the coming decade, medical staffers are in for a rough transition, but unlike many other professions, that doesn’t mean the need for doctors goes away.

Here’s why we will still need doctors even though many ancillary jobs will begin to disappear.

1.) Accidents: Humans are born risk-takers, and as such, not all risks turn out well. Whenever an accident occurs, it produces a one-of-a-kind condition only marginally similar to other disasters. Accidents also create a boatload of emotional, psychological, and relationship issues that require human contact and human attention.

2.) Anomalies and Edge Cases: No matter how far we push our technical ability, there will still be things that fall outside of the norm.

3.) New Diseases: The disease universe continues to evolve. Only a couple decades ago we didn’t know about mad cow disease, bird flu, or golfer’s foot. These conditions have only recently cropped up, and in the future there will be many more.

4.) The Human Touch: Too often people are faced with critical life and death decisions and need to understand the options. While it may be possible for a computer to spit out the cold, hard choices, this is really a situation where people need a real person to interact with.

5.) Research: The human condition is constantly evolving and our relationship with the world around us continues to change. As a result, there will continually be a need for further research, and doctors will find a welcome home for their talent.

6.) Oversight: While computers will serve as a more accurate replacement for fallible humans, that doesn’t mean we won’t encounter fallible computers. Every line of code has its own idiosyncrasies and biases, requiring a technical checks and balance system to audit their performance.

7.) Constant Updating: Human biology is not a static science, and as a result, every condition, reaction, and assumption will need to be constantly updated as new information surfaces.

8.) Pushing the Limits: Computers won’t color outside the lines unless we tell them to. We live in a human-based world dealing with human-based problems, and sometimes this requires unusual levels of creativity, abnormal thinking, and gut instincts.

“Technology will replace 80 percent of what doctors do” - Vinod Khosla

Final Thoughts

In 2012, Vinod Khosla, famed venture capitalist and co-founder of Sun Microsystems, made the bold proclamation that “Technology will replace 80 percent of what doctors do.”

He made the controversial remarks at the Health Innovation Summit in San Francisco, hosted by seed accelerator Rock Health.

Continuing on he said, “Healthcare today is often really the ‘practice of medicine’ rather than the ‘science of medicine.’”

To make his point, he pointed out:

  • A Johns Hopkins study found that as many as 40,500 patients die in an ICU in the U.S. each year due to misdiagnosis
  • Another study found that ‘system-related factors’, e.g. poor processes, teamwork, and communication, were involved in 65 percent of studied diagnostic error cases.
  • ‘Cognitive factors’ were involved in 75 percent, with ‘premature closure’ (sticking with the initial diagnosis and ignoring reasonable alternatives) as the most common cause.

Khosla said that machines, driven by large data sets and computations power, not only will be cheaper, more accurate and objective, but better than the average doctor. To get there, the level of machine expertise will need to be in the 80th percentile of doctors’ expertise.

So how long before this transition occurs?

Health care is an industry involving complicated politics, irrational decisions, and legions of people looking for their next paycheck. But the sheer volume of money in the system is making it a prime target of entrepreneurs all over the world. 

One of the primary drivers, the Affordable Care Act, is already creating openings, and many changes have already begun. Within 10 years, we will see a radically different health care system begin to emerge, but it will take longer for the technology to mature.

We’re in for a wild ride.

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Thomas Frey

Thomas Frey is the executive director and senior futurist at the DaVinci Institute and currently Google’s top-rated futurist speaker.  At the Institute, he has developed original research studies, enabling him to speak on unusual topics, translating trends into unique opportunities. Tom continually pushes the envelope of understanding, creating fascinating images of the world to come.  His talks on futurist topics have captivated people ranging from high level of government officials to executives in Fortune 500 companies including NASA, IBM, AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, Unilever, GE, Blackmont Capital, Lucent Technologies, First Data, Boeing, Ford Motor Company, Qwest, Allied Signal, Hunter Douglas, Direct TV, Capital One, National Association of Federal Credit Unions, STAMATS, Bell Canada, American Chemical Society, Times of India, Leaders in Dubai, and many more. Before launching the DaVinci Institute, Tom spent 15 years at IBM as an engineer and designer where he received over 270 awards, more than any other IBM engineer.

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