Will Data Supplant Doctor Insights in Diagnosis?

Yes it will. It must. This is not an indictment of physician fallibility but an acknowledgment that more and more data is being collected from patients, and the tools for analyzing it are getting more sophisticated. For savvy doctors, this should be a boon, making their jobs easier and more efficient.

Efficiency. Crunching patient data will allow physicians to make correct diagnoses without to resorting to more tests and more expensive tests.  

Better patient relations. Relying on data analyses for diagnosing will allow physicians to spend more time with patients as care givers which is what most of us want from our primary care physicians.

Cost savings. Data analyses will mitigate the need for expensive tests, for sure. Using data to bolster diagnoses will also create a stronger case for doctors when potential malpractice suits loom. Dr. Atul Gawande has written extensively on how some doctors are matching demographic data with aggregated medical data to create treatment plans for addressing macro-medical cost problems. Cost savings are already there if you are looking in the right places.

Caveats. Much of the data collection is done by physicians at the point of care. Data analyses are only as good as the data collected. The physician rightly should still be the one who reviews the analyses and decides how it fits into an overall treatment plan, but there need to be strong incentives to make sure charts are through and correct. 

Choosing winners. No one knows which new technologies will provide the optimal tools but the industry standards will emerge. 

Marketing implications. With healthcare reform is already underway, many more people having coverage by 2014. The cost side of care must be addressed. Lower costs will allow insurance plans to be more competitive in their rates and in the quality of product they can offer. Also emerging health data technologies will need to be marketed to a healthcare professional audience who might be skeptical.

These are the opportunities and the caveats.