The Future of Medicine: Can an App Diagnose Health Issues?
When was the last time you had a non-emergency healthcare check? According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Americans made 19 percent fewer doctor visits in 2010 compared to 2001. It’s not just that fewer people are going to the doctor — although that’s absolutely true — but even those who visit the doctor are making fewer annual visits.
Part of it has to do with a lack of time. It also has to do with unaffordable healthcare costs. And for some, it can involve a mixture of pride (“only weaklings go to the doctor”) and denial (“I’ll just wait it out”). Regardless, people are increasingly ignoring preventive care — which is a shame because preventive care saves lives and is cheaper in the long run.
So what if you could diagnose your ailments without ever visiting a doctor or the hospital, all with the help of artificial intelligence? With HealthTap’s Dr. A.I., this is now actually possible.
Get a Health Diagnosis Without Leaving Home
In 2011, The Marist Poll found that approximately 37 percent of Americans use the web to self-diagnose health issues “at least sometimes.” You can imagine how much greater that figure is today with the prevalence of sites like WebMD, Mayo Clinic, RightDiagnosis, etc.
Why take a trip to a clinic and spend a co-payment when you can get “the same” advice with a few Google searches? At least, that’s how many are starting to think, especially with concerns over rising healthcare costs. Despite the dangers of self-diagnosis, people are willing to take that risk.
But HealthTap is different.
Launched in 2010, HealthTap is a web service that offers personalized health advice instead of general web articles that tend to be too vague to be helpful . This personalized help is made possible by the 100,000+ doctors and experts who you can directly contact using HealthTap’s platform for a small fee.
But while HealthTap’s affordable and convenient service has proven helpful to many over the years, it still isn’t as free or convenient as searching Google. Which is why HealthTap recently launched a new service called Dr. A.I.
Dr. A.I. is an artificial intelligence that pulls in billions of data points, statistics, and insights from health experts across the world over the last six years. This “knowledge” (or “expertise”) is then filtered and applied specifically to you based on your age, gender, lifestyle, medical history, current medications, and symptoms.
Dr. A.I. is the best of both worlds. Whereas a vague search like “headache above right eye” can only return equally-vague results, Dr. A.I. incorporates dozens of different factors to arrive at a more specific (and often more accurate) diagnosis of your ailment. If your diagnosis is serious, Dr. A.I. also offers follow-ups with real doctors and experts through HealthTap.
And yes, Dr. A.I. is completely free to use.
Step-by-Step Demonstration of Using Dr. A.I.
Dr. A.I. may sound a bit suspicious to you. Believe me, I was skeptical too when I first heard about it — so I waited until I wasn’t feeling good, then gave it a test run to see where its diagnostic powers led me. As it turns out, Dr. A.I. is easier to use and more helpful than I expected.
Step 1: Health profile. In order to use Dr. A.I., you have to first create a free HealthTap account. Once created, launch the mobile app and log into your account. You’ll need to set up a health profile, which includes details like age, gender, ethnicity, weight, height, conditions, medications, etc.
It’s mostly optional, but the more information you provide, the more accurate the app will be. You can also create multiple profiles (e.g. for others in your household). The good thing is that you only have to set up these profiles the first time you use the app (with the occasional update as your health changes).
Step 2: Symptom details. To get started, tap Find out why at the top of the app where it says “Experiencing symptoms?” Select the profile for whom the symptoms apply, update any changes to your health profile from the last time you used the app, then start typing in your symptom. If you don’t see the symptom you have in mind, try rephrasing it (“sore back” versus “back pain”).
Step 3: Refine symptoms. For each symptom you input, Dr. A.I. will ask several follow-up questions to help refine what you mean. For example, there’s a big difference between a headache that makes you dizzy and lose balance versus a headache that pounds and makes you sensitive to light.
You’ll have to repeat the follow-up process for every symptom you have, and each symptom has its own set of refinements. It may seem like a lot of work, but it’s necessary for greater accuracy in results. This level of detail is what separates Dr. A.I. from other symptom-checking sites on the web.
Step 4: View results. Once you’re done, Dr. A.I. will need a few minutes to assess your symptoms and find likely matches. In my case, I love how it tells me that “tension headache” is far more likely than “migraine” or “meningitis.” Can you imagine the undue stress I’d have if I was told I might have meningitis? No thanks.
The results may seem similar to what you’d get if you’d searched WebMD, Mayo Clinic, etc. The difference is that Dr. A.I. pulls in many more data points than those sites do, then combines artificial intelligence with a massive database to pinpoint the most likely results in your specific case. It doesn’t just find all possible ailments and list them for you to explore further on your own.
But perhaps the best reason to use Dr. A.I. is that it gets better over time. The more you use it, the more data it has on you. This informs the artificial intelligence and leads to even more specialized, more accurate answers with each future consult.
Dr. A.I. is still brand new with lots of room to improve, so don’t expect it to be 100 percent accurate or reliable. It’s better than searching on Google, but until you speak to an actual medical professional (on HealthTap or elsewhere), diagnoses should still be taken with a grain of salt.
AI Is the Future of Diagnostic Medicine
If you aren’t impressed by Dr. A.I., I implore you to reconsider.
According to the National Center for Policy Analysis, about 10 to 20 percent of all cases are misdiagnosed by doctors. Of these misdiagnoses, close to 30 percent are life threatening, lethal, or result in permanent disability. On the other hand, the supercomputer IBM Watson correctly diagnosed a patient’s rare form of leukemia while doctors were stumped.
What does this mean for us?
Whereas no one human could possibly store and reference the entirety of global medical knowledge, artificial intelligence can. Modern computers and software are more adept at crunching data, analyzing statistics, and recognizing patterns than us. AI can spot trends and details that humans regularly miss or overlook.
And if Dr. A.I. can bring that level of power to our fingertips in the form of a mobile app, wouldn’t that be great? Not only would it be great for us who lack the time time or money to visit a doctor, but there’s a good chance that it could be the more accurate (and preferred) method.
Of course, it isn’t a flawless solution.
For something like Dr. A.I., the results can only be as good as the one answering the diagnostic questions. Since laymen lack the expertise to properly describe and gauge symptoms, user error may lead to misdiagnoses anyway. And when misdiagnoses do happen, who do we blame?
It reminds me of the controversy surrounding self-driving cars: if an autonomous vehicle causes an accident with casualties, it feels worse. Even if the statistics say that self-driving cars are safer overall , are you willing to trust your life to them? Would you trust a computer to diagnose your health issues?
Maybe not yet, but give it time. Among other medical breakthroughs , Dr. A.I. is the future.
How do you feel about artificial intelligence in medicine? Do you prefer doctors even with the misdiagnosis rate? Share your thoughts with us below!
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