Medical Care

When Are Computers Better Than Doctors?

A computer system did better than doctors when it came to collecting and reporting information about patients, according to a study by researchers at Cedars-Sinai.

The investigators said that their study indicates the possibility of computers to improve the quality of medical care.

They emphasized that they didn’t expect technology to replace physicians in clinical settings. But, they said, the computer can help doctors practice medicine more efficiently.

“Our results suggest that computers can help clinicians focus on what they do best – practicing the distinctly human art of medicine,” said Brennan Spiegel, MD, a study author and director of Health Services Research. “This study offers initial proof that a computer can create meaningful and relevant patient histories that are useful in the clinical setting.”

The investigators focused on 75 patients in outpatient gastrointestinal clinics in Los Angeles; the patients reported abdominal pain, heartburn, reflux, nausea, vomiting, constipation and diarrhea.

The physicians who saw the patients typed or dictated information about the patients into an electronic health record system. The patients themselves later answered questions about their symptoms. An algorithm on the site collected those answers and translated them into patient narratives..

Reviewers, who were not aware of the experiment, concluded that the computer-generated summaries were superior, describing them as better organized, more complete, succinct, comprehensive and useful.

“The study reveals that computers can lift at least some of the burden from doctors by collecting and analyzing data,” Spiegel said.

The study was published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology.

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