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Doctors Beat Apps for Diagnosing

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By    |   Friday, 14 Oct 2016 01:42 PM

When it comes to supremacy in diagnosing, there isn't an app for that. Despite ever-greater computer apps challenging humans in many fields, diagnosing the human condition is still best left to human doctors, say researchers at Harvard.

In a study, doctors made a correct diagnosis more than twice as often as 23 commonly used symptom apps, according to researchers at Harvard medical School. Their analysis was published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

The study set out to pit man against machine and find out whether computers might help to improve clinical diagnoses and reduce errors. Each year, millions of people rely on internet programs or apps to check their symptoms or to self-diagnose. Yet how these computerized symptom-checkers fare against physicians had not been well studied.

In the study, believed to be the first of its kind, 234 humans went head to head with computers to evaluate 45 clinical cases, involving common and uncommon conditions with varying degrees of severity. For each scenario, physicians had to identify the most likely diagnosis along with two additional possible diagnoses. Each case was solved by at least 20 physicians.

The humans outperformed the symptom-checker apps, listing the correct diagnosis first 72 percent of the time, compared with 34 percent of the time for the digital platforms. A full 84 percent of clinicians listed the correct diagnosis in the top three possibilities, compared with 51 percent for the digital symptom-checkers.

But humans outshined their nonhuman counterparts where it mattered most — in more severe and less common conditions.

Machines notwithstanding, physicians still made errors in about 15 percent of cases. Researchers said a combination might be best —computer-based algorithms used in conjunction with human decision-making to further reduce diagnostic errors. And they were quick to point out humans may not hold the edge for long.

"While the computer programs were clearly inferior to physicians in terms of diagnostic accuracy, it will be critical to study future generations of computer programs that may be more accurate," said senior investigator Ateev Mehrotra, associate professor of healthcare policy at Harvard.

"While the computer programs were clearly inferior to physicians in terms of diagnostic accuracy, it will be critical to study future generations of computer programs that may be more accurate," said senior investigator Ateev Mehrotra, an associate professor of health care policy at HMS.

Despite outperforming the machines, physicians still made errors in about 15 percent of cases. Researchers say developing computer-based algorithms to be used in conjunction with human decision-making may help further reduce diagnostic errors.

"Clinical diagnosis is currently as much art as it is science, but there is great promise for technology to help augment clinical diagnoses," Mehrotra said. "That is the true value proposition of these tools."
 

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When it comes to supremacy in diagnosing, there isn't an app for that. Despite ever-greater computer apps challenging humans in many fields, diagnosing the human condition is still best left to human doctors, say researchers at Harvard.
apps, computers, doctors
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2016-42-14
Friday, 14 Oct 2016 01:42 PM
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