A research letter was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association titled “Comparison of Physician and Computer Diagnostic Accuracy”. The American researchers, from Boston and Washington, concluded in their small study that real doctors were superior at making diagnoses.
You may not have yet seen, but you likely will: a website where you enter your symptoms and you push submit and out comes some possible diagnoses. These sites have already shown some popularity in the US, but do they deliver accurate results?
The researchers analyzed 23 websites that promised to generate a list of diagnoses when given a group of symptoms. Each website was given 45 different clinical situations, and for each, the top 3 diagnoses the computer generated was noted.
The same clinical situations were given to highly trained doctors, to arrive at the top 3 diagnoses as well. Each of the 45 clinical cases was analyzed by at least 20 different doctors.
Real doctor better than computer diagnosis
The doctors were totally correct, meaning they arrived at the correct diagnosis in 72% of cases. The computer programs, on average, got the correct diagnosis only 34% of the time. But the doctors were 84% accurate in getting the correct diagnosis as one of their top 3 choices. The computer programs got the correct diagnosis in the top three only 51% of the time.
This study showed that real doctors were significantly better than computers with coming up with the correct diagnosis. But note that the results from the doctors were not perfect. They failed about 15% of the time to get the correct diagnosis as one of their top three possibilities.
Of course, doctors are not perfect, and even great doctors do not always reach the correct diagnosis the first time. However, this study did not involve any physical exam or actual talking to the patient. Adding these diagnostic activities would likely have boosted the doctor’s accuracy to higher than 85%.
The conclusion is that, for the time being, you should trust a doctor more than a computer program to make your diagnosis. Certainly the computer algorithms (programs) will improve, and someday may rival the skills of the doctor. At least for a long time, a computer will not be able to physically touch a patient, or do a physical exam. Nor will the computer, for a few years at least, be able to have a conversation with a patient.
The Internet is a good place to find medical information, but one lesson from this study is that you need to be careful about what you learn from the Internet regarding health. For now, if you have significant symptoms or want to find out what you have, your best bet is still to find a good doctor. Which is what we are trying to help you with here on ProcruaMed.
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