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Alison Acevedo

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How can we better harness our human capabilities to develop medical technology?

In my bioelectricity class taught by TED fellow Nina Tandon, we've discussed the difficulties of diagnosing patients using the results of diagnostic tests like EKGs & EEGs. Diagnosis following these examinations require doctors with extensive experience correlating signal patterns with disease. Interpreting non-invasive diagnostic tests is one of many challenges requiring lifelong dedication to one facet of the medical field.
In light of this, Daniel Kraft's talk about the future of medical tech. is interesting. He highlights technologies that allow doctors to visit patients virtually and robots that allow doctors to work remotely. Exponential technologies, Kraft quotes, 'surpass the ability of the human mind.' Their development is a worthwhile application of human time and innovation.
We also learned about Catherine Wong (http://tinyurl.com/8pjbxwq) an inventor developing an inexpensive, portable EKG device that transmits data via cell phone. She discusses the reality that 2 billion people today have no access to local healthcare. These underdeveloped regions don't have the funds or equipment for remote access health care. Kraft discusses the application of the lab-chip for humanitarian aide, but charitable outreach is more Catherine's focus.
Despite the enormous promise of exponential technology lowering costs for global healthcare, access to diagnostic tools is not the only issue today in medicine. Noel Merz discusses how cardiovascular disease goes unnoticed in women but is their leading killer. While men's heart attack onset symptoms are obvious, esp. in their EKGs, women's symptoms are subtle, requiring MRI's to detect. A greater fraction of women die than fraction of men.
These ideas made me question the continuing value of human insight when developing and disseminating technologies, and the assumptions (and biases) that influence what to develop. Development is a human process. How can we better harness our human capabilities to develop medical technology?


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    Apr 6 2013: Hi Alison,

    As Kraft quotes, in order to 'surpass the ability of the human mind', the technology that is developed has to be able to perform better than doctors with extensive experience. What do experienced doctors posses that modern technology doesn't? This is most likely the ability to correlate input they receive from the human five sensory input system and formulate connections with diseases they have diagnosed in the past. Benji Straus's TEDx talk: We Need a Better Way to Communicate emphasizes the clear advantages of five sense communication in medical diagnosis. Medical technology will progress with the development of technology that can better imitate human perception.
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      Apr 7 2013: I agree to an extent with George that technology has to progress in the direction of imitating human perception, but why not allow it to go beyond those capabilities- if possible. I commented on an interesting Ted Conversation last week hosted by Neema Aggrawal, that the experience of a doctor has to go hand in hand with the development of technology. In certain industries, technology and robotics has found ways to replace the human labor force, but in medicine I don't believe that will ever be truly possible. As George quoted and mentioned, a human's five sensory systems is something that is unique to humans which separates us from machinery and technology. However, technology is capable of making doctors better at what they do, and those physicians and surgeons that are up to date with the latest and greatest technological advancements in the medical field are really ahead of the game. I don't think that we'll be able to develop technology that will replace our own human capabilities, just enhance them.
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        Apr 8 2013: I agree with points made by both George and Joseph. On the one hand, I think that in order to make our technologies better they should model human perception and memory. Different technologies should be able to use their previous findings and compare it to the data that they are using now. On the other hand, nothing can truly replace the care and attention received by a doctor. On a more psychological level, I believe that most patients today would still rather have their doctor diagnose them then a machine. Doctors should use modern technologies to improve their care, but we shouldn't replace doctors themselves. Part of healthcare is giving support to the patient so they can get better. When the patients trust their doctor and healthcare that they're receiving, they're more likely to take better care of themselves and perform the necessary steps to get better. By using modern technology with the care of doctors, our healthcare system can improve drastically.
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          Apr 9 2013: Hi Lauren! I completely agree with you, as well as George and Joseph! You all bring up really great points. I think Alison posed a good question about what can we innovate and develop to allow us to further medical capabilities. I don't believe that innovation lies with technology. Technology development recently has been geared towards automation, replication, and humanization. This began with the belief that human error is an error worth eliminating. Though, in some cases, this is valid, in the medical field, it may prove to be futile in the years to come. As discussed in Neema Aggarwal's TED Conversation last week, with the automation of medical diagnoses and practice, comes the desensitization of medicine and its traditional principles.
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          Apr 9 2013: I think i have to disagree with you Swetha. Innovation certainly lies in new technologies! While you may feel that eliminating human error is the goal of innovation, I believe that in fact, technological advancements have allowed us to study patients with much greater precision (for observing the heart, lets say, -- with the use of an ECG as opposed to a stethoscope).

          New Innovations have also been geared towards better and less invasive detection methods. For example, a Technion based company, Insightec, has developed a "knife-free" surgery technique that "uses MRI to find trouble spots and focused ultrasound to treat such issues as brain lesions, uterine fibroids and several kinds of cancerous growths." Innovations like these will propel humankind to a better future in medicine.

          To respond to Alison, I feel that the best way to utilize our human capabilities is to work alongside these new technologically advanced techniques and make them mainstream. We can collaborate on how to improve them, or tweak them to better suit our needs and serve the greater good.
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      Apr 8 2013: George, I like your train of thought. It's great to ask the question what is the difference between man and machine in order to determine how we can make the machine better. It seems that there is an aspect to human judgement that extends past,"the ability to correlate input they receive from the human five sensory input system and formulate connections with diseases they have diagnosed in the past." What is this other component to human perception and how can we "bottle" it?
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        Apr 9 2013: I agree. I think the very fact that you used a term such as "bottle it" implies how abstract this human "x-factor" is --- almost as if it cannot even be ascertained sufficiently even to describe, let alone capture and replicate. Would love to hear some opinions from the TED community on what this other component to human perception can be.
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          Apr 9 2013: Hi George and Alison!

          I believe the other component of human perception that should be "bottled" and reproduced should be the ability to make mistakes. Machines are built to replicate perfection, however the betterment of human nature comes from learning from one's mistakes. If machines were allowed to make mistakes, wouldn't they be able to teach themselves and work towards perfection?
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          Apr 9 2013: Hi Alison, George and Swetha!

          Machines are produced to output a certain pattern. They are made to be as objective as possible, and therefore lack any sort of emotional aspect in generating a solution. As human beings, we cannot ever be completely objective. In medicine, an individuals emotional state of mind affects the patients physical response greatly. Machines are not able to detect these factors while human beings can. In other words, because we as human beings do not fit a magical diagnosis equation due to our differences, there will most likely always be some sort of errors with machine diagnosis. In this case, human insight is something that we need to emphasize more as a superior form of intelligence.

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