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principally because health is so important for our life and happiness we're less willing to sacrifice it to preserve face (I'd wager it is an even better tax on bs than money).

I agree that I expect people to be more willing to trade money for face than health for face. I think the system is slanted too heavily towards face, though.

I should also point out that this is mostly a demand side problem. If it were only a supply side problem, MetaMed could have won, but it's not--people are interested in face more than they're interested in health (see the example of the outdated brochure that was missing the key medical information, but looked like how a medical brochure is supposed to look).

It'd be surprising for IBM to unleash Watson on a very particular aspect of medicine (therapeutic choice in oncology) if simple methods could beat doctors across most of the board.

My understanding is that this is correct for the simple techniques, but incorrect for the complicated techniques. That is, you're right that a single linear regression can't replace a GP but a NLP engine plus a twenty questions bot plus a causal network probably could. (I unfortunately don't have any primary sources at hand; medical diagnostics is an interest but most of the academic citations I know are all machine diagnostics, since that's what my research was in.)

I should also mention that, from the ML side, the technical innovation of Watson is in the NLP engine. That is, a patient could type English into a keyboard and Watson would mostly understand what they're saying, instead of needing a nurse or doctor to translate the English into the format needed by the diagnostic tool. The main challenge with uptake of the simple techniques historically was that they only did the final computation, but most of the work in diagnostics is collecting the information from the patient. And so if the physcian is 78% accurate and the linear regression is 80% accurate, is it really worth running the numbers for those extra 2%?

From a business standpoint, I think it's obvious why IBM is moving slowly; just like with self-driving cars, the hard problems are primarily legal and social, not technical. Even if Watson has half the error rate of a normal doctor, the legal liability status is very different, just like a self-driving car that has half the error rate of a human driver would result in more lawsuits for the manufacturer, not less. As well, if the end goal is to replace doctors, the right way to do that is imperceptibly hand more and more work over to the machines, not to jump out of the gate with a "screw you, humans!"

I agree this should have happened sooner: that Atul Gwande's surgical checklist happened within living memory is amazing, but it is catching on, and (mildly against hansonian explanations) has been propelled by better outcomes.

So, just like the Hansonian view of Effective Altruism is that it replaces Pretending to Try not with Actually Trying but with Pretending to Actually Try, if there is sufficient pressure to pretend to care about outcomes then we should expect people to move towards better outcomes as their pretending has nonzero effort.

But I think you can look at the historical spread of anesthesia vs. the historical spread of antiseptics to get a sense of the relative importance of physician convenience and patient outcomes. (This is, I think, a point brought up by Gawande.)


I think I agree with your observations about MetaMed's competition but not necessarily about your interpretation. That is, MetaMed could have easily failed for both the reasons that its competition was strong and that its customers weren't willing to pay for its services. I put more weight on the latter because the experience that MetaMed reported was mostly not "X doesn't want to pay $5k for what they can get for free from NICE" but "X agrees that this is worth $100k to them, but would like to only pay me $5k for it." (This could easily be a selection effect issue, where everyone who would choose NICE instead is silent about it.)


However, this data by and large does not exist: much of medicine is still at the stage of working out whether something works generally, rather than delving into differential response and efficacy. It is not clear it ever will - humans might be sufficiently similar to one another that for almost all of them one treatment will be the best. The general success of increasing protocolization in medicine is some further weak evidence of this point.

This is why I'm most optimistic about machine medicine, because it basically means instead of going to a doctor (who is tired / stressed / went to medical school twenty years ago and only sort of keeps up) you go to the interactive NICE protocol bot, which asks you questions / looks at your SNPs and tracked weight/heart rate/steps/sleep/etc. data / calls in a nurse or technician to investigate a specific issue, diagnoses the issue and prescribes treatment, then follows up and adjusts its treatment outcome expectations accordingly.

(Sorry for delay, and thanks for the formatting note.)

My knowledge is not very up to date re. machine medicine, but I did get to play with some of the commercially available systems, and I wasn't hugely impressed. There may be a lot more impressive results yet to be released commercially but (appealing back to my priors) I think I would have heard of it as it would be a gamechanger for global health. Also, if fairly advanced knowledge work of primary care can be done by computer, I'd expect a lot of jobs without the protective features of medicine to be au... (read more)

Open Thread, Dec. 28 - Jan. 3, 2016

by [anonymous] 1 min read27th Dec 2015145 comments

10


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