The Algorithms Are Coming

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The Stanford University School of Medicine and Google have teamed up to improve medical care.  At least in part this is the result of the belief of the dean of the school that the greatest innovations in medicine going forward will result from the ability to manage and interpret huge amounts of patient data.  Algorithms are the way in which computers process that data.

One of the innovative ways in which computers and medicine are coming together is illustrated by a pilot program being tested in the Stanford Medical Center’s intensive care units.  Doctors have long known that dirty hands can and do spread infections.  Despite years of informational programs emphasizing the need for health care providers to wash their hands before visiting a patient, the rates of infections spread by unwashed hands are not going down.  Enter the computer.  An artificial intelligence program was developed that can tell if a health care worker has washed his or her hands by using infrared light to monitor a washing station in the ICU.  The plan is for the doors to the patients’ rooms to be fitted with an interlock which can be opened in the normal course only by a doctor or nurse who has just washed his or her hands.  The doors can be opened in an emergency without handwashing but the computer will record the emergency opening and a report must be submitted to explain what happened.  The interlocks are not yet operational but the computer monitoring system is already demonstrating good handwashing compliance.

The Stanford/Google partnership hopes to be able to crunch large amounts of data, including genomic data, and be able to better predict when a person will become ill and to provide treatment to prevent the disease in the first place or to treat it sooner than at present.  They are also studying data on patient readmissions to identify those patients at greatest risk for readmission and to tailor treatment to them to keep them from coming back.

Our ability to sequence the human genome and to use computing power to put that development to use will almost certainly produce advances in medicine which will stun us.  As important as this work is, it will be equally important to make sure that all can benefit from it and not just those with the highest incomes or the best health plans.

Posted in Doctors, electronic medical records, General Health, genetic testing, health, Health Care Costs, Hospitals, Infection, medical charts, Medical Costs |