When it comes to recognizing patterns, no other species does it better than humans. This ability serves as the core for virtually every effort and enterprise ever to have been conceived throughout the course of civilization, from hunter-gathering to modern medical science.
In fact, it’s safe to say the primary responsibility of a trained physician is to have comprehensive knowledge of various patterns to look for when evaluating the health of patients. On top of an equally expansive understanding of medicine and the ways in which the body responds to various injuries and illnesses, doctors are trained to recognize the patterns that suggest the possibility of a certain diagnosis.
For most interactions between doctors and patients, the process of pattern recognition begins by checking the six vital signs: blood pressure, pulse, respiration, temperature, height, and weight. Doctors and their staff review these signs for any indication of abnormal patterns.
Thanks to various developments in information technology and data storage over the last decade or so, doctors are now able to take pattern recognition to new heights. For example, physicians can use medical transcription services to amass an easily searchable database of conversations with patients going back months or even years. Let’s say a doctor suspects a recently prescribed medication is causing insomnia in a patient. She can do a quick search for conversations related to sleep to determine if the problem coincides with the start of the prescription or was happening beforehand.
Using transcribed conversations with patients to pick up on any health-related patterns is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the potential for technology to help physicians recognize the signs of trouble. For example, advancements in bloodwork science and radiology are happening every year, with the ability to detect numerical and visual patterns helping doctors more quickly diagnose cancer and other conditions where time is of the essence.
With the advent of artificial intelligence being used in the medical field, the emphasis on state-of-the-art pattern recognition to more rapidly treat health conditions will only increase. This is because, as most readers probably already know, computers are pretty good at the whole pattern recognition thing.
Computers are also much better at quality assurance. Give an advanced computer the singular task of detecting the statistical likelihood of someone having a medical condition and it will not falter from an established standard deviation. Give the same task to a trained medical expert and the failure rate will be much harder to predict and control over time. Given these truths and given it’s only a matter of time until a computer is developed which can provide a reliable rate of successful diagnosis that exceeds the best doctors in the world, physicians are going to one day wake up to the prospect of being replaced by robots.
Of course, the age of virtual doctors and robot surgeons is still many decades away. Just rest assured the time between now and then will see an increase in the ability for medical professionals to detect patterns. It’s the key to finding out what’s wrong with a patient and what can be done to make it better.