Technology in healthcare: Why docs shouldn't feel threatened

While some, such as venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, have predicted that as much as 80 percent of a doctor's job could be replaced by computers in the decades ahead, the split in duties likely will end up more equal, a commentary published this week in National Journal argues.

Commentary author Darius Tahir points to tools such as clinical decision support software as evidence that technology is important for helping doctors to provide quality care, as opposed to delivering that care outright.

Tahir offers up several other examples of how technology aids treatment efforts, as well. For instance, he points out that a study published in the American Journal of Managed Care in 2010 shows that software can be used to improve provider adherence to clinical guidelines. In that study, the Bloomington, Minn.-based HealthPartners hospital system shows how software helps to show doctors how well their decision making with regard to patient imaging compares to guidelines set by the American College of Radiology.

In addition, Tahir points out that algorithmic software has helped organizations like the Camden (N.J.) Coalition of Healthcare Providers to determine "hotspots" in need of more care than other locales. "These patients often have chronic diseases that aren't treated properly, and these patients frequently end up in the hospital," he writes. "The goal of 'hot spotting' is to intervene early before problems flare, making the patient healthier despite using fewer resources."

Tahir also says that while the victory for IBM's Watson on "Jeopardy" isn't exactly "the equal of John Henry struggling against a steam-powered drill in the annals of man versus machine," it could represent things to come in healthcare, particularly as doctors are held more accountable for their results.

Just this week, IBM Research announced collaborative efforts with the Cleveland Clinic and Case Western Reserve University to use Watson's technology to help with patient diagnoses, as well as to help physicians uncover key information from patients' medical records to inform their care.

To learn more:
- read the National Journal commentary