Computers write better patient reports than doctors, study shows

Who needs doctors?! Well, OK, all of us, probably. But according to a new study, we’re better off with a computer, at least when it comes to admin.

Researchers from Cedars-Sinai hospital found that software was better at collecting symptom information and producing detailed reports on patients than doctors were. The study’s authors, who published their paper in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, followed 75 outpatients at gastrointestinal clinics in Los Angeles. Their symptoms ranged from indigestion to abdominal pain to diarrhoea (oh my).

They were first seen by doctors, who inputted the patients’ health histories into an electronic records system via typing or dictation. Later, the patients answered a series of questions on the website My GI Health, which used an algorithm to create a report based on their symptoms and medical history.

After that, both sets of reports – those written by doctors and created by computer – were submitted to an independent group of doctors who were asked to assess their quality. The fact that some of the reports were computer-generated was kept under wraps, but the independent group consistently picked them as the best, praising them for being more comprehensive, better organised, less rambling, and ultimately more useful.

The researchers stress that computers can’t and shouldn’t take over the job of examining patients, but that they could take over some of the stressful and time-consuming aspects of the job, allowing doctors to spend more time treating people. Having more efficient patient reports would also be really helpful in case of a referral to another clinic or hospital.

But… am I the only one who thinks this might be letting doctors off the hook a bit too much? I get that writing reports isn’t the most fun part of any job, but if doctors’ reports aren’t as comprehensive as they could be, surely it suggests they’re not spending as much time as they should getting to know their patients – or maybe that they’re too distracted to listen to them properly. If the solution is for computers to create patients’ files in future, will the docs at least look them over?

After all, an algorithm might be able to pull a lot of info together, but it can’t be relied upon to make a diagnosis. (Yet.)

Image via Pixabay.

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Diane Shipley