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Neema Aggarwal

Electrical Engineering Student, The Cooper Union for the Advance,

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Do we rely too heavily on technology for medical diagnosis?

This week in my bioelectricity class, we discussed electric fields that can be measured on the body (eg the brain, skin, eyes) and the ability to interpret signals for diagnosis, lie detection etc. Currently, there exists clinical decision support systems (CDSS), which are interactive computer software systems designed to aid doctors with medical decisions. Various test results and other data from the patient is inputted into a CDSS which then processes it and provides a list of possible diagnosis and options for treatment. The problem is, like all machines, they can often make crucial mistakes.

Dr. Lisa Sanders, a physician at Yale School of Medicine, and technical adviser for the popular TV show, House, wrote a book called “Every Patient Tells a Story” dealing with the uncertainty doctors face when analyzing a patient’s symptoms. Sanders says that misdiagnoses account for as much as 17% of medical errors. She discusses how despite the many technological advances made recently, sometimes these diagnostic tools are to blame. Relying too heavily on machines and lab results can result in symptoms being missed. Or on the other hand, sometimes exam results are normal; blood tests, electrocardiograms, CT scans, all may suggest a healthy body even when that is not the case. It can take a trained, experienced eye to notice small details in the patients’ behavior to unravel the mysteries of an unknown illness. Sanders states, “For all the data they collect, machines lack important components for diagnosis. They cannot hear a patient’s story, touch a patient’s skin, or look into a patient’s eyes.”

My question is, have we become too dependent on machines and technology to make medical decisions for us? Have doctors been lured into a false sense of security by allowing tools like CDSS to provide answers? How can the value of intuition which comes only from experience be balanced with technology without being lost? Can machines ever be a good enough substitute for doctors?

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  • Mar 29 2013: It depends. I recently thought I was having a heart attack. They kept me over-night during which time I didn't sleep and than made me do a stress test on a tread mill in the morning in a hot room. I thought they were trying to kill me. I wasn't in shape for that and had chest pains. And example where they don't use technology enough is that I believe the day will cone soon when no psychiatric diagnoses will be considered professional or compete without a sleep study. We spend billions on trying to hammer children into an appearance of normality which is just really acquiescence when the fact of tier behavioral issue could be tied to the level of sleep, whether they achieve delta waves and HGH is released to allow their brains to grown needed capacity. I think it's a primitive matter to deduce some kind of psychosis in a child and not even examine their sleep life, And that takes technology.

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