Thomas McGinn, the chairperson of medicine at a major New York hospital system, has started testing patients’ probability to certain ailments using a software program. This new technology is meant to reduce the necessity of ordering a traditional lab test or imaging. The tool will lessen the number of unnecessary tests doctors order and antibiotics prescribed during uncertain diagnostics. It could expedite the appropriate care patients need by enabling doctors to treat them before lab tests can confirm a diagnosis.
Dr. McGinn is with Northwell Health that has 21 hospitals in New York. He is currently running a pilot program for patients with suspected pulmonary embolism in the emergency department at two hospitals he oversees.
The predictive tool pops up on the screen of electronic medical records, prompting the doctor to answer a series of short question about a patient’s symptom. Based on the information feed, the calculator predicts the probability that the patient has the suspected ailment. The tool may also recommend a course of action.
Taking the instance, of a patient who is coughing, does he has pneumonia. The doctor will answer five simple question. The questions will include whether the patient has a fever, rapid heart and if the doctors can hear a ‘crackle’ in the lungs. A high score based on this result may call for an immediate intervention, but not so much when there is a low score.
As always, critics have started expressing their fears. Many doctors can’t fully comprehend how computer programs can tell them how to do their jobs. John Beasley, a family physician for more than 40 years whose Verona, Wis., notes that the calculator makes diagnosis and treatment seem simple when they really aren’t.
Patients with multiple medical problems could make the calculator less useful or even inappropriate. Someone who is immunosuppressed for instance may not show a fever even when suffering from pneumonia. This means that the person is sick, but the predictive program will show less likely results. Importantly, doctors are free to ignore calculated predictions.
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