2006 November 11 Saturday
Google Searches Help Doctors Diagnose Cases

Stumped by a difficult patient and don't have a real life Gregory House MD to turn to? Google it!

Searching with Google may help doctors to diagnose difficult cases, finds a study from Australia published on bmj.com today.

Doctors have been estimated to carry two million facts in their heads to help them diagnose illness, but with medical knowledge expanding rapidly, even this may not be enough. Google is the most popular search engine on the world wide web, giving users quick access to more than three billion medical articles.

This is where cyborg technology would come in handy. Think a question. Get a search result projected onto your retinas. Or even state a question out loud. Then have a device interpret your speech into text and send it off to a specialized search engine. Then see results.

Just as Google has build Google News (of which FuturePundit is an incredibly heavy user) to restrict searches to news sites and Google Scholar to restrict searches to scholarly published research papers imagine a Google Medical that only looks at medical sites (and avoids all those places trying to sell you supplements). That would provide even more useful results than plain Google.

Google searches allowed doctors to turn up correct diagnoses in 58% of 26 difficult cases.

So, how good is Google in helping doctors diagnose difficult cases?

Doctors at the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane identified 26 difficult diagnostic cases published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2005. They included conditions such as Cushing’s syndrome and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

They selected three to five search terms from each case and did a Google search while blind to the correct diagnoses.

They then selected and recorded the three diagnoses that were ranked most prominently and seemed to fit the symptoms and signs, and compared the results with the correct diagnoses as published in the journal.

Google searches found the correct diagnosis in 15 (58%) of cases.

But you need to have a large base of knowledge in your own brain already in order to make sense of the search results.

The authors suggest that Google is likely to be a useful aid for conditions with unique symptoms and signs that can easily be used as search terms.

However, they stress that the efficiency of the search and the usefulness of the retrieved information depend on the searchers’ knowledge base.

Medicine is the area of intellectual I'd most like to see automated. Medical costs go up each year faster than inflation and have become a huge burden for industries, governments, and individuals. The vast majority doctors and nurses employed in medicine are smart minds that only deliver services and do little to develop new goods and services (though obviously some do research). The automation of medicine would free up hundreds of thousands of higher IQ minds to do research and product development.

Artificial intelligence is going to come very incrementally. The popularity of search engines is probably a bigger driver for the development of artificial intelligence than anything else happening right now. Hundreds of millions of people are using search engines looking for answers. The advertising revenue they generate feeds an intense competition between search engine providers to make better algorithms to search through text and tables to look for meaning.

Even the people who do searches to look for the latest in the trailer trash saga of Britney Spears and Kevin Federline are creating demand for products that push the boundaries of artificial intelligence. The people who want to find others who share their own weird quirky sexual desires are going to jump to the search engine that can interpret human writing most accurately. So all the vices, cravings, and desires of humanity are pushing us further toward development of useful artificial intelligence technology. Parenthetically, this also suggests that some of the first AIs will, by design, want to have sex with humans. So Caprica-Six's desire for Gaius Baltar makes sense.

By Randall Parker    2006 November 11 09:41 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (7)
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