Sunday, December 11, 2011

Diagnosis Without Doctors

I should be doing other things tonight, but this thought hit me and I feel compelled to write a short post on it. I have a number of other thoughts for longer blog posts, but they will have to wait until February after my textbook draft is in.

Earlier today I shared this article. It refers to "Race Against the Machine" and includes quotes from one of the authors. In many ways I think it is a great article. However, I was struck by how they list doctors as a relatively safe profession. Martin Ford points out how many specializations for MDs are at serious risk. However, I haven't seen anyone who is predicting the demise of the primary care physician. I'm going to predict that here. I had a previous post about the "Doc in the Box" idea of having scanners watching people in a clinic. I still think that works well. However, I'm going to take it a step further.

Let's start with WellPoint hiring Watson. This is basically an insurance company setting big-data analytics loose on a bunch of medical data. I want to up the ante a bit and make the data bigger. Imagine WellPoint distributing something like the JawBone UP to people on plans with them under the condition that they really use it. Go a bit further and set people up with some low cost devices or apps to monitor other things like this. Maybe a scale and something to measure blood pressure. How about giving them an easy way to indicate eating habits and other things that might impact their health. Feed all of that into the machine. Now we are talking some really big data. Within five years I have a feeling you completely change the shape of medicine.

Five years isn't enough time to really see what happens with any given person. However, you will make up for that quite a bit by having previous medical history (much less detailed data) combined with tracking huge numbers of people. Get some lab on a chip stuff going as well and it's over. You have a company that will be "watching" body changes in hundreds of thousands of people all the way down to activity levels and blood work. You won't go to your doctor when you get sick. They will start warning you 24 hours or more in advance that you are getting sick and tell you what to do about it.

Note that I put the word "watching" in quotes above. That's because no humans need be involved in this process at all. This only works because you can throw vast amounts of data at computers that can crank through more information in a day than a human could process in a lifetime.

What do you think? Would you sign up to have your health habits tracked closely by an insurance company so they could turn medical diagnosis from the current state of a flawed art to a true science?