As a society, we owe technology applause for helping improve our medical abilities tenfold. Today, we thought it would be fun to take a look back on how technological advancements have succeeded in making our medicine better than ever, and how they continue to do so. Take a moment of your time to read this article from Forbes on Pagers, AI, and Google.

Medicine and technological advancement have been intimately intertwined, from the invention of the stethoscope to the latest innovations in MRI scanning. But the road isn’t always smooth. There can be interesting bumps and glitches along the way, as illustrated by these three recent stories.

1) Old tech can linger

The Guardian recently reported that the UK National Health Service uses more than 10% of the world’s pagers. The pagers cost £6.6 million ($8.9 million) per year. Furthermore, the UK will soon only have one provider of pagers nationwide after Vodafone exits the market.

One critic noted, “Taxpayers will wonder why the NHS is spending millions on outdated technology, especially at a time when savings need to be made.”

As a young doctor in the 1990s, I carried a pager. But nowadays, most physicians I know use cell phones to take emergency calls. However, The Guardian notes that there are still a few advantages to pagers, namely:

…[S]lightly more reliability. Where mobile phone networks can be patchy, or slow, or overloaded, the separate paging network offers a modest improvement in reception and reach, especially in rural areas. Compared with modern smartphones, pager batteries also last much longer.

I can see pagers lingering on for special niche applications. But for most people, their time has passed.

By Jakez (Own work), Creative Commons BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

An old pager/beeper.

2) New tech can be overhyped

I believe that artificial intelligence (AI) will some day have a major impact in the practice of medicine. But STAT News reporters Casey Ross and Ike Swetlitz have described how the IBM Watson AI system “isn’t living up to the lofty expectations IBM created for it.”

Specifically, the Watson for Oncology was intended to help improve cancer care by helping physician with treatment recommendations based on the best available worldwide data

Ross and Swetlitz reported:

While it has emphatically marketed Watson for cancer care, IBM hasn’t published any scientific papers demonstrating how the technology affects physicians and patients. As a result, its flaws are getting exposed on the front lines of care by doctors and researchers who say that the system, while promising in some respects, remains undeveloped…

Perhaps the most stunning overreach is in the company’s claim that Watson for Oncology, through artificial intelligence, can sift through reams of data to generate new insights and identify, as an IBM sales rep put it, “even new approaches” to cancer care. STAT found that the system doesn’t create new knowledge and is artificially intelligent only in the most rudimentary sense of the term.

Because of problems with Watson, the highly-regarded MD Anderson Cancer Center (part of the University of Texas) cancelled its partnership with Watson “amid internal allegations of overspending, delays, and mismanagement.”

I still believe that AI will revolutionize medical care, even if specific products might not (yet) be ready for prime time. I take heart in the fact that the Apple Newton was also a product not ready for prime time — but it did set the stage for the much more successful Apple iPhone and the current mobile technology revolution. Similarly, I think the long-term future of medical AI remains bright, even if specific products may struggle to meet expectations.

3) Current technology can alter the doctor-patient relationship in unexpected ways

Many patients routinely use search engines like Google to find good doctors or to learn more about their physician’s professional qualifications. But to what extent should doctors be searching for information on their patients?

Erene Stergiopoulos discusses this issue in a fascinating essay, “Getting Googled by Your Doctor”:

Searching for patients’ information online gives physicians a way to gather collateral data about a patient who either cannot or will not communicate important clinical information, says Paul Appelbaum, a psychiatrist, professor at Columbia University, and world expert in medical ethics and the law…

That online collateral information is especially useful [in the acute setting, Applebaum] says, where patients may be psychotic, intoxicated, or suicidal. In these acute settings, social media can provide clinicians with valuable context to make decisions — whether the patient uses drugs or alcohol, has self-harmed, or has family support…

However, Stergiopoulos notes that patients can feel betrayed if content from their social media posts ends up in their medical record without their consent.

Furthermore, this can create medico-legal problems:

As more and more providers Google to guide their decisions, they may be shifting the clinical standards to which all practitioners are held… If practitioners neglect that standard, and something preventable goes wrong, they risk accusations of malpractice. In other words, if patient-targeted online searches become the new standard of care, then clinicians could become liable for information patients post online. If a patient leaves a suicidal message on Facebook, and the clinician misses it, there’s a future — seemingly more plausible by the day — in which that clinician could be sued for malpractice if the patient then attempts suicide.

In informal discussions with other health professionals, some colleagues have said they never Google their patients. Others do so selectively. Yet others consider it a legitimate part of conscientious medical practice. And some physicians feel strongly that if patients can Google their doctors, they as physicians should similarly be able to Google their patients.

Clearly, this is an area where medical and legal standards are still evolving. In the meantime, if patients are uncomfortable with their physicians Googling them, they might wish to make their preferences clear ahead of time, before they and their doctor suffer a misunderstanding.

You can read the original article here.
Hsieh P. (25 September 2017). “Pagers, AI, And Google: 3 Tales Of Technology And Medecine” [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address