Computer outperforms doctors in collecting patient information

Dec. 11, 2014

Digitized medical data presents promise and peril. Increasingly, it can be acquired anywhere, as the quality of wearable and home health-monitoring devices improves. On the downside, cloud-based health data can be hacked or marketed against your will or even used against you in a court of law.

Yes another issue with medical data—even that collected in a clinical setting, relates to incomplete or inaccurate information. A doctor entering patient data might seem to be the gold standard, but that may not be the case. According to a Cedars-Sinai study, a computer system was more effective than doctors at collecting information about patient symptoms, producing reports that were complete, organized, and more useful than narratives generated by physicians during office visits.

As reported at Newswise, investigators said the research, published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, highlights the potential of computers to enhance the quality of medical care and improve outcomes by harnessing accurate and thorough patient information.

The study involved 75 patients at gastrointestinal clinics who suffered a variety of active systems including abdominal pain, heartburn, reflux, nausea, vomiting, constipation, and diarrhea. The patients were seen by doctors, who entered patient data into an electronic health record system. Subsequently, the patients later answered questions on a website called My GI Health, where an algorithm collected the answers and generated a report.

A separate group of doctors then evaluated the reports, not knowing whether a doctor or computer generated each report.

The reviewers concluded that the computer-generated summaries were superior, describing them as better organized, succinct, comprehensive, and useful. The investigators suggested that patients are more comfortable describing symptoms to a virtual human.

“The computer-generated narratives were of higher quality overall,” said Christopher V. Almario, MD, a Cedars-Sinai-based gastroenterology fellow and a lead author of the study.

“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.”

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