…and eight reasons why we will still need doctors

“2014 will be the year the ’quantified self’ goes mainstream.” Those were the words Silicon Valley prodigy Marc Andreessen used in a recent article to describe changes about to happen to American healthcare.

The ‘quantified self,’ also known as lifelogging, is a trend toward gathering all possible data about our daily life, such as the food we eat, quality of the air we inhale, our mood, oxygen levels, as well as our physical and mental performance.

So what if you could cut your number of sick days by 80%, sleep better at night, be more alert, more efficient at work, and still have plenty of energy left for family and friends at the end of a busy day?

As we add an increasingly large number of sensors to our bodies and the world around us, our understanding of cause-and-effect health issues will grow exponentially.

This movement combines smart devices and the Internet of Things with health monitoring apps to give us a better idea of how to optimize virtually every metric associated with our lifestyle, health, and physical performance.

We are on the verge of crossing over from science hype to science reality, with the prospects of creating a tremendous upside. Yes, there will be more than a few battles fought along the way between doctors and health industry executives, but in the end, it doesn’t have to be a win-lose situation. Here’s why.

The Trillion Sensor Roadmap

The Great Sensor Movement

On Oct 23-25, 2013 an event was held at Stanford University called the Trillion Sensor Summit, organized by Janusz Bryzek, VP of Fairchild Semiconductor. Bryzek predicts we are on an exponential growth curve with sensors and will reach the trillion-sensor milestone by 2024. His roadmap also shows us reaching 100 trillion roughly 10 years later.

Cisco and GE are both evangelizing the Internet of Things and gearing up for it. To create their vision, they need two things: An eager public and literally trillions of sensors, so they’re definitely in sync with Bryzek.

According to Cisco, the Internet of Things is already comprised of over 10 billion moving parts.

To make everything evolve into one well-orchestrated symphony, with all the right data coming from all the right places at the right time, we’ll need more sensors. Most of these sensors cost less than $1 today and consume almost no energy, and they will cost far less and consume even less energy in the future. So it’s all boils down to mass manufacturing and deployment, and more than a few key innovations along the way.

There are, of course, more than a few unintended consequences lurking behind every newly opened door. We now know how easy it is for devious organizations like the NSA to peer into our emails and location data. The same scanners used for security checks at the airports can also be used for thousands of other nefarious misdeeds.

A hyper-connected world not only increases the opportunities for big-time data collection, but also for hacking.

Sensors, along with a raft of other transmitting devices, may be used to shower us with subliminal and overt marketing messages for nearby restaurants, theaters, and shops. And it could get even worse with a stalker’s ability to monitor our every move.

But as always, all of these problems create an equal and opposite opportunity, and someone will invariably figure out solution.

Printable sensors on the skin

The Coming Doctor-Computer Wars

Doctors have traditionally been late adopters when it comes to gadgets and new technology. Working seemingly endless days and jumping from one crisis to another has left them with little time to learn. And as highly educated individuals, they’ve been somewhat intimidated by things they don’t understand.

With technology encroaching on virtually every aspect of our lives, and computers operating with an entirely different set of rules than biology, many have grown increasingly resistant to change, even though it could make their life easier.

As we move into an era of heavy downward pressure to control costs, and in many cases, subvert their authority altogether, the result will likely be an all out war between doctors and the executive teams trying to create more efficiencies.

At the same time, this doesn’t have to be a win-lose situation for doctors because there will still be plenty of work for physicians.

Eight Reasons Future Computers will make Better Decision than Doctors

The dirty little secret as to why healthcare hasn’t advanced as quickly as many of the other sciences is that we’ve run up against the limits of human capabilities. There has been strong resistance to anything that may by-pass a doctor’s authority, and the sheer limitations of time, money, and talent has left many with little to no understanding of their own health conditions.

Over the coming years, smart devices will begin to disrupt ‘business as usual’ in the medical world. As a result, we will see many studies commissioned to determine if the devices are making as good of decisions as doctors.

“Cost is directly proportional to obliviousness”

While we will invariable go through a messy phase with tons of failures, computers tied to smart devices will eventually win out. Here’s why:

1.) Real-Time Monitoring: Rather than doing the snapshot-in-time testing that doctors do today, analyses will increasing be made through sensor networks that pull data over an extended period of time from our skin, organs, and even our brain as these tools evolve into hyper-analytical portals into our own metabolism.

2.) Larger Sampling Size: Seldom will a medical workup actually zero in on a condition’s point of origin. If you contracted a disease, got an infection, some nasty rash, or just feel lousy, where did it start? Did it start on your finger when you touched something? Or maybe it started in your lungs from breathing dirty air, or from a toothbrush, or bad food, or dirty restroom? By working with super-large sampling sizes, we will uncover far more information than we ever dreamed possible.

3.) Ability to Process Exponentially More Data: Eventually medical computers will be able to analyze and monitor over 10,000 possible conditions simultaneously over an extended period of time. This is simply beyond human capabilities.

4.) 24/7 Working Hours: Doctors wear out at the end of the day, computers don’t.

5.) No Trip, No Waiting: If a doctor insists on seeing someone in person, very often they won’t come. But if that same person can engage in their own series of self-diagnostic exercises, it’s far more likely to happen.

6.) Cheaper: The cheaper and more accessible healthcare is, the more likely it will happen. Cost is directly proportional to obliviousness.

7.) More Accurate: Is the problem occurring because of cells one nanometer in size or 10 millimeters? Human precision is simply no match for the hyper-exactness computers can wield.

8.) More Objective: Far too many doctor decisions have been coopted by big pharma, insurance companies, and medical policies. The patient’s best interest is no longer the top priority.

Eight reasons why we will still need doctors

Over the coming decade, medical staffers are in for a rough transition, but unlike many other professions, that doesn’t mean the need for doctors goes away.

Here’s why we will still need doctors even though many ancillary jobs will begin to disappear.

1.) Accidents: Humans are born risk-takers, and as such, not all risks turn out well. Whenever an accident occurs, it produces a one-of-a-kind condition only marginally similar to other disasters. Accidents also create a boatload of emotional, psychological, and relationship issues that require human contact and human attention.

2.) Anomalies and Edge Cases: No matter how far we push our technical ability, there will still be things that fall outside of the norm.

3.) New Diseases: The disease universe continues to evolve. Only a couple decades ago we didn’t know about mad cow disease, bird flu, or golfer’s foot. These conditions have only recently cropped up, and in the future there will be many more.

4.) The Human Touch: Too often people are faced with critical life and death decisions and need to understand the options. While it may be possible for a computer to spit out the cold, hard choices, this is really a situation where people need a real person to interact with.

5.) Research: The human condition is constantly evolving and our relationship with the world around us continues to change. As a result, there will continually be a need for further research, and doctors will find a welcome home for their talent.

6.) Oversight: While computers will serve as a more accurate replacement for fallible humans, that doesn’t mean we won’t encounter fallible computers. Every line of code has its own idiosyncrasies and biases, requiring a technical checks and balance system to audit their performance.

7.) Constant Updating: Human biology is not a static science, and as a result, every condition, reaction, and assumption will need to be constantly updated as new information surfaces.

8.) Pushing the Limits: Computers won’t color outside the lines unless we tell them to. We live in a human-based world dealing with human-based problems, and sometimes this requires unusual levels of creativity, abnormal thinking, and gut instincts.

“Technology will replace 80% of what doctors do” – Vinod Khosla

Final Thoughts

In 2012, Vinod Khosla, famed venture capitalist and co-founder of Sun Microsystems, made the bold proclamation that “Technology will replace 80% of what doctors do.”

He made the controversial remarks at the Health Innovation Summit in San Francisco, hosted by seed accelerator Rock Health.

Continuing on he said, “Healthcare today is often really the ‘practice of medicine’ rather than the ‘science of medicine.’”

To make his point, he pointed out:

  • A Johns Hopkins study found that as many as 40,500 patients die in an ICU in the U.S. each year due to misdiagnosis.
  • Another study found that ‘system-related factors’, e.g. poor processes, teamwork, and communication, were involved in 65% of studied diagnostic error cases.
  • ‘Cognitive factors’ were involved in 75%, with ‘premature closure’ (sticking with the initial diagnosis and ignoring reasonable alternatives) as the most common cause.

Khosla said that machines, driven by large data sets and computations power, not only will be cheaper, more accurate and objective, but better than the average doctor. To get there, the level of machine expertise will need to be in the 80th percentile of doctors’ expertise.

So how long before this transition occurs?

Healthcare is an industry involving complicated politics, irrational decisions, and legions of people looking for their next paycheck. But the sheer volume of money in the system is making it a prime target of entrepreneurs all over the world.

One of the primary drivers, the Affordable Care Act, is already creating openings, and many changes have already begun. Within ten years we will see a radically different healthcare system begin to emerge, but it will take longer for the technology to mature.

We’re in for a wild ride.

By Futurist Thomas Frey

Author of “Communicating with the Future” – the book that changes everything




19 Responses to “Eight Reason Why Future Computers will make better Decisions than Doctors”

Comments List

  1. Steve

    Thomas: I agree with much of this article until the last incredibly obtuse statement. Obamacare will be a driver, yes, just for the worse. If we experience the positives in your predictions it will be in spite of Obamacare. I think I speak with some knowledge. My father was an MD in private practice and a professor of anesthesiology. I have a law degree specializing in health care and run a successful medical distributorship. I have a cousin that owns a pharmacy. My aunt was a cardio ICU RN for 23 years. etc etc. I know about most of the inefficiencies and perverse incentives in health care and Obamacare does nothing if not potentiate them. Obamacare creates disincentives to innovation throughout the system. The device tax is just the tip. It also pushes doctors into huge, bureaucratic groups or into hospital ownership which stifles new thinking and innovative doctors. This was the intention all along. To place so much regulation on doctors that the only way to survive is to spread the costs across as many as possible. Thus easier to control from Washington. EMR is touted as a "wonder drug" to the staid medical profession. Ethical doctors are going kicking and screaming. Get ready for your records to be hacked. I've looked into it and the EMR security standards are about as safe as "". Even if not hacked, the law says they can be legally shared over a multitude of interested parties that might (probably) not have your best interests at heart. Obamacare is just a dishonest Rube Goldberg wealth transfer scheme that leaves just about as many uninsured as before, but will destroy the best (admittedly with problems) healthcare system in the world. It's pretty simple: if you are a Saudi prince and you get cancer, need multiple heart bypasses, etc, and you have the resources to vote with your feet you don't go to Canada! You come the to the USA. From the grey in your beard,(and mine) you should be very scared. There really are death panels and they will apply to us all.
    • FuturistSpeaker

      Steve, I don't disagree with you, there are many things wrong with Obamacare. When I refer to it as a driver of change, it is the flaws you point out that will cause entirely new systems to emerge, not as part of it, but to circumvent it. Thomas Frey
  2. Gavin

    All I can say is it will be a good day when technology takes over from doctors at 100%. I personally find them a strange bunch of people. Many seem to have huge egos and cannot be wrong, they will say there is consensus in the medical community on subjects when this is not true. Money seems to play a large role for them in doing what they do. Technology should eliminate the difference in quality of doctor/surgeon. No more fighting to see and find the doctor who will listen and you need, as you will see the best. I just hope this is not manipulated for money saving reasons as we have today, especially with socialized medicine which I support but I am concerned is being manipulated and abused for cost saving reasons. Humans cannot be intelligent enough to process all the data and medical facts accurately. At the moment we are still not much better than the stone age regarding healthcare. To progress we will need more than fallible humans to improve and give up to date 24/7/365 healthcare.
    • FuturistSpeaker

      Gavin, Thanks for your comments. We are still in the Egyptian sundial stage of development when it comes to healthcare. At this point we can't even imagine what a truly great system will look like. Thomas Frey
  3. OneStickNick

    With 33 years working in healthcare, I'm able to tell you that computers will never be able to factor in the unique ability of humans to be non-compliant. Many of us die from noncompliance! As an illustrative point,we recently initiated a new survey process in our facility, with yes/no questions being used to risk stratify patient health histories prior to surgery; it is largely failing as data input errors artificially lower the risk of surgery when patients "forget" to document past history (due to poor memory or embarrassment about the history), and/or incompetent interviewers skip over history that is important. Computers will never be able to replace experienced, inquisitive healthcare professionals who have a sincere interest in protecting their patients from harm.
  4. mf

    I think we should all be tired by now of the constant hype coming out of silicon valley. What have we gotten so far? The biggest gossip circle in the history of human race, a marauding overhyped advertising engine, aka search engine which on every substantive issue leads right to Wikipedia, in and of itself as much a source of information as disinformation as most of what is in there is not vetted, Really, an expert system will replace a doctor? See how many people will prefer to see the expert system when they are really ill. This is not to say that creating an expert system will not be helpful to doctors. But this is where it will end. It will save them time that they do not now have to comb through ever more voluminous literature.
  5. MIchael Davis

    @Steve the whole Canadians coming to America for expensive surgery for medical adavances has been debunked. Why did Kobe Bryant have to go to Germany to get his knee platelet surgery. Germany has an advanced version of Obama care. The people who come to America for surgery are usually foreigners who were on vacation or business in the U.S when they got sick. The European ujnion with their socialized health care also has more advanced therapies. There are gene therapies available in Europe and China none in the U.S. I think these advances will come with the help of Obama care. Hospitals are already turning to telemedicine with home sensors to cut down on costly readmission,because ACA fines hospitals that readmits patients.
  6. bobw6655445322

    After 35+ years of programming and working with computers and software, I'll put my life in a doctor's hands long before I will a computer. A new (to me) primary care physician caught my colon cancer and probably saved my life. All the "sensors" (tests) for cancer were negative, and according to my oncologist never did show I had cancer. If my primary physician had of gone by the test results check list (lik a computer) he would have given me antibiotics to combat an out of whack blood count and sent me on my way.
    • FuturistSpeaker

      Bob, Keep in mind that computers are already being used to automate the current forms of testing being done today. With additional sensors, the volume of data to sort through rapidly escalates beyond human capability. Yes, there are many examples of doctors with great instincts who have spotted things that haven't been detectable in the past. That certainly doesn't mean they won't be detectable in the future. And the problem with relying on exceptional doctors is that they're not scalable, and you almost never know if you're dealing with a average one or a great one. Thomas Frey
  7. Gigi Montes

    My first frustration with this article is the lack of sources. If you are going to make wide generalizations about an incredibly heterogenous group of people- such as doctors- I would really have liked to see citations. Otherwise I have no idea where this information is coming from and can only surmise that you've made it up. Perhaps even more important are the citations from Vinoh Khosa. What studies is he referring to exactly and where can I find them in PubMed? I would be very excited to read the papers that presented the information he uses to indict the current state of healthcare and judge their merit for myself. My second frustration with this article is the underlying assumption that increasingly sophisticated technology will somehow be the savior of medicine. I find that to be a rather comical assertion. Just because we have sophisticated technology doesn't mean that we will know how to properly use it, doesn't mean that everyone will have access to it, doesn't mean that the cost of this technology will outweigh it's benefits, doesn't mean that it will replace doctors in the flesh etc…. As a future physician, I am looking forward to all the ways in which technology will help me to help my patients. I think that smart devices and sensors are going to be a tremendous aid at some point and personally I hope we are slow to adopt them. Because, with that time we can do studies, perform tests, ensure efficiency and practicality with our use of these devices.
    • FuturistSpeaker

      Gigi, Thanks for your comments. Since this blog is written more as a magazine article than a college thesis, I leave out many references. It help improve readability. Some of the Khosla comments and their sources can be found here - If you don't believe a massive wave of tech devices are about to hit the medical scene, you obviously didn't attend the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week. The number of new personal health devices being introduced there was truly staggering. Thomas Frey
  8. FredO

    What an incredibly obtuse article--you just plug in the data and the computer tells you what's wrong and prescribes the therapy. You show an incredible ignorance of how medicine is practiced. The doctors don't make the decisions (nor will the computers)---the patients do. Good luck in eliminating the human factor in the most intimate, vital (literally) professional relationship possible. Please stop the gee-whiz stuff---you sound like that idiot Ray Kurzweil, who says that we are going to download our consciousnesses onto computers because of Moore's Law (it's hard to suppress laughter at his profoundly naive ignorance) My reply to Mr. Khosla--"Technology will replace 80% of what venture capitalists do"
    • FuturistSpeaker

      Fred, I'm pretty sure I represent a huge number of people in saying that I'd much rather test myself at home rather than schedule an appointment with a doctor. The harder it is to get answers, the less likely people will take the time to find them. I'm glad you're satisfied with the state of healthcare as it stands today. Personally I'm not, and neither are the legions of innovators working on the technology to change it. Yes, we will see many unintended consequences along the way. And no, not everything will work as well as the sale people say it does. But that won't impede people from trying. As to your last statement, you may be correct. Crowd funding is already replacing some of what VCs have funded in the past, and will take over a far bigger share in the future. VCs may indeed be a dying species. Thomas Frey
  9. FredO

    Do you know ANYthing about medical practice ? It's not a series of if-then statements after which an algorithm spits out a prescribed course of action. You take a history, you listen to a patient, you do a physical exam, you elicit patient preferences--go ahead, test yourself at home, see how far that goes. Anyway, in most medical encounters the diagnosis is known--the important question is what to do about it. And the insinuation that we are satisfied with the state of healthcare is simply asinine. Doctors are always trying to improve patient care---you might look at some of the medical journals sometime. We just don't indulge in a naive techno-utopianism as a panacea for the very real problems of sick and sometimes dying patients.
    • FuturistSpeaker

      FredO, I can only say that you are exhibiting the same kind of arrogance and condescending tones that prevent many people from ever going to a doctor. A huge number of people live their lives like a train wreck, and yes they probably need a good lecture to get their life back on track, but they'll avoid it at all costs. While you've gone out of your way to enumerate the benefits of the doctor-patient relationship, you fail to explain how it scales. Humans are limited by their intellectual bandwidth, their location, and their time. As both the number of people multiplied by the number of treatable conditions grows exponentially, we simply run out of time, talent, and money to manage them. You also assume that I'm anti-doctor, which I'm certainly not, and that this is an either-or situation, which it isn't. I'm but a lowly messenger here to convey but a short glimpse of the future. If I've caused you to rethink what lies ahead in any way, then I've done my job. Thomas Frey
  10. Jack Joyce

    "Be not the first by whom the new is tried nor yet the last to lay the old aside" (Alexander Pope)captures the mentality of physicians to whom I have presented certifiably accurate diagnostic techniques. As they have no skin in the game these doctors prefer to ignore compelling data in favor of standing pat as doing so makes no ripples in whatever public/private revenue stream currently supports their patient treatment protocols. Meanwhile misdiagnoses harms patients, wastes resources and dollars. The answer is deregulation of medicine and a return to the market place where people can purchase private insurance and pay as they go in an environment that will be highly sensitive to their consumer power. For those of you unfamiliar with GizMag I urge you to make it a regular on-line stop as it is replete with marvelous discoveries from the converging worlds of nanotechnology, biology and genetics. As it is now the province of dedicated medical professionals to gate-keep the delivery of these advances so it will be in the future only in my view success will attend when there is freedom both for discovery and for access.
  11. <a href='' rel='external nofollow' class='url'>Darren L Bosteder</a>

    That's the problem with medicine and technology your not thinking outside the box with creative solutions you can see we are merely observing and witnessing experiences with a still awareness always present when you realize this anything is attainable with you mind's eye creativity you are at an understanding of faith and hope things unfold gracefully through God there is no right or wrong just is a mere experience so technology and humans will not deminish nor go away because the spirit will soar when ready go in peace

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