Saturday, May 29, 2010

Medical Diagnosis through Artificial Intelligence

This is a guest post by Ashley M. Jones. If you're interested in submitting a guest post, please contact me.

If you trust your doctor implicitly, it’s because you probably respect their degree, their years of toil and education, and the number of years of experience they have had on the job. Also, you’re more likely to feel comfortable with someone who has treated you before and done a good job of it. So if you were asked to relate to a machine instead, one that was extremely intelligent and capable of making accurate diagnoses, would you accept? Would you be comfortable letting machines equipped with artificial intelligence diagnose your illness and suggest suitable treatment?

I’m sure most of us would cringe at the thought, but it’s already happening – artificial intelligence is making inroads into the field of medical diagnosis, not as a stand-alone tool that seeks to replace doctors altogether, but as a supplementary aid to assisting physicians come to accurate conclusions in diagnosing some diseases and illnesses.

The advantages that machines with artificial intelligence, or more specifically, Artificial Neural Networks (ANN) bring to this field are many:
•    They bring down the costs of medical diagnoses and treatment.
•    They can learn from information and data that is made available on a continuous basis, and so, take logical decisions without making errors.
•    When doctors are tired and overworked, they tend to make mistakes that affect the lives and health of their patients. Machines are not limited or hampered by physical constraints and can work for long hours without giving in to emotions or fatigue.
•    They help minimize invasive procedures - a case in point is the ANN program used last year by the Mayo Clinic to help doctors accurately diagnose patients with the heart infection endocarditis without the need for an invasive procedure, thus reducing overall healthcare costs and costs to the patient as well.
•    The highly structured reasoning abilities of ANNs allow doctors to make “educated” decisions based on their intuitions. With ANN, intuition is backed by solid knowledge, a combination that reduces the risk of medical errors by a great percentage.
•    They provide doctors with all the facts needed to make accurate decisions, facts that are often ignored or forgotten in the myriad of things going on in the minds of physicians because of their professional and personal lives.
Of course, there are ethical aspects to letting machines without the ability to feel decide on suitable forms of treatment. But when they are used in tandem with human intelligence, conscience and compassion, ANN make the best supplementary tools for medical diagnosis. And it is because of this reason, that they are excellent supplements instead of stand-alone tools, that there is no fear that machines will put doctors out of business anytime in the near future.

This article is contributed by Ashley M. Jones, who regularly writes on the subject of Pharmacist Technician Certification. She invites your questions, comments at her email address:

1 comment:

  1. I think "Machines are not limited or hampered by physical constraints" would be better rendered by using "physiological constraints". Computers certainly have a multitude of physical constraints, none of which they are "aware" of unless a human has anticipated them, and properly installed adequate measures to handle them.