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Researchers question value of computers in avoiding misdiagnoses

Computers are omnipresent in every facet of life, including one's health care. Doctors often enter examination rooms carrying a handheld device, while nurses may take patient histories on a mobile laptop in Massachusetts emergency rooms. There are some who question the role that computers might play when physicians make misdiagnoses.

With the advent of the computer age, more and more industries are becoming exceedingly technology-driven. Human ingenuity has taken a backseat to the convenience that these electronic devices offer. The same may be especially true in the health care fields, as more of the guess work has been replaced with an array of programs geared toward collecting patient information and supplying a possible diagnosis and treatment options. This convenience has come at a high price according to several researchers.

These researchers collected data from an estimated 75 providers who have expressed the opinion that computer-based care has compromised both their skills and the care that patients receive. Three prominent researchers analyzed the case of the first American Ebola death as an example of computers limiting the observations that may have enabled the treating physicians to recognize the symptoms that the patient displayed. Computer systems have also reduced the quality of the interaction between patient and doctor, which also can lead to doctors missing important information.

It is true that computers serve a purpose for many tasks that may become tedious for human workers. However, there are many occupations that require critical problem-solving and an intuition that comes from experience -- such as is needed in the subjective field of health care. Doctors and other providers who are following prompts on their screens risk misunderstanding the big picture, which may play a role in doctors' misdiagnoses. Massachusetts patients who believe that their provider missed important cues in their illnesses, for which they endured greater harm as a result, have the right to pursue a medical malpractice claim in order to seek a financial remedy for any damages they suffered.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, "Automation makes us dumb", Nicolas Carr, Nov. 21, 2014

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