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Study: Doctor diagnoses far more accurate than computer ones

The list of things that computers are better than humans at seems to be growing constantly. However, there remain some tasks in which, at least currently, humans continue to have a significant edge over computers. One of these is the diagnosing of medical conditions.

There are computer programs out there for guessing medical conditions based on symptoms. This includes symptom-checking websites and apps. A recent study indicates, however, that these programs are nowhere near as accurate as diagnoses from flesh-and-blood physicians.

The study looked at how a group of over 200 doctors and a group of 23 symptom-checking websites/apps did when given vignettes (which included medical histories of hypothetical patients) to make diagnoses in relation to.

According to the study’s findings, the doctors were far more likely to give a correct diagnosis for the vignettes than the symptom-checking programs. The doctors had the correct condition as their top diagnosis 72 percent of the time and in their top three choices for diagnoses 84 percent of the time. Meanwhile, the symptom checkers only gave the correct diagnosis as their top choice or in their top three choices 34 percent and 51 percent of the time respectively.

The difference in accuracy between the doctors and the symptom-checking programs was particularly wide when it came to rare conditions and serious conditions.

Diagnoses are a big part of a doctor’s job. And, given the results of this study, it appears this will remain the case for quite some time. Of course, instances do sometimes come up for a doctor in which they give a diagnosis that turns out to be incorrect. In some cases, an incorrect diagnosis could have significant career implications.

Specifically, this can be the case when allegations of improper care are leveled in connection to missed diagnoses. Such allegations could harm a doctor’s reputation and could potentially even have implications on the status of their medical license.

When a Wisconsin doctor fears their ability to practice could be at risk due to allegations leveled against them, such as diagnosis-related allegations, they may want to talk with a skilled health law attorney about what can be done to protect their career.

Source: Los Angeles Times, “Your phone may be smart, but your doctor still knows more than an app,” Karen Kaplan, Oct. 10, 2016

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