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Healthcare IT: full integration in care

da-vinci-healthcare.jpgI am reading an excellent book: “Jacquard's Web” by James Essinger.

Joseph-Marie Jacquard was a master silk-weaver in Napoleonic France. Jacquard invented a loom that accelerated the rate at which master weavers could create their exquisite fabric by 25 times. The loom stored patterns and instructions for the beautiful designs on punched cards, which were in turn used by Charles Babbage to programme his Analytical Engine--the world's first computer.

The precursor of Jacquard's loom was the drawloom. Individual threads of the warp were lifted by it to create a path through which the shuttle was passed by a draw boy. The drawloom allowed patterns to be weaved at the unprecedented rate of two rows a minute (!)

This book is an excellent read and this caught my eye:

“The real problem was that the drawloom was not a machine at all. Instead, it was only a device for facilitating the manual weaving of patterns or images in the fabric...”

Facilitating the manual weaving. It seems to me that is what healthcare IT does: it's an aid to care rather than an integral part of care--still somewhere between the condition of an abacus and a calculator.

The picture is of the da Vinci operational robot which is used by surgeons to achieve unprecedented precision in minimally invasive surgery. It eliminates a surgeon's hand tremor, which is magnified by the lever effect of the long keyhole surgery instruments, and further improves visibility by the stereoscopic view of the site that its twin lenses provide.

Sure, it needs a surgeon to operate it remotely but how much longer before IT and tools are further integrated creating the medical equivalent of Jacquard's loom and freeing professionals to weave even better patterns of care?

Picture of the da VInci copyrighted property of Intuitive Surgical.


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» Full Integration of IT into Healthcare from Future Health IT
We need the full integration of healthcare and IT. Today it’s is an optional extra for clinicians, perhaps not surprising, because applications are often little more than jumped up number crunchers that are irksome to use.... [Read More]


mmm .... machines and medicine - loads of questions there: should we really try to remove the "manual handling" of sick people?

Surgeons are of course famed for being completely detached from the person who lives in the body they're fixing, and arguably it's better that way. But I guess that so much of good health care is intuitive and unprogrammable, how about designing IT to deliver more staff / patient contact rather than reducing it?

I am glad we are thinking along similar lines.

I think that technology will not dehumanise care, in fact it will have the opposite effect. It will free carers and allow them to concentrate on the human aspects that a machine can not deliver.

Having said that, I remember reading a case study about an expert system (it may have been called ELISA) that conducted interviews with people, mainly by rephrasing what they said and adding phrases like: "tell me more".

Some of the interviewees became very emotional and afterwards said that they had never met a clinician who understood them so well and with whom they had connected so strongly: food for thought?

probably gets a bit metaphysical at this point: should machines replace people even if they apparently can?

I think it was Turing who suggested that the test for artificial intelligence was for somebody to talk to a device behind a screen, and not be able to tell if it was a human or a machine...

But would that be better? And why?


I do not think it would be "better".

Care is unlikely to lose the need for a human touch. But machines do have some advantages: they are less likely to be bored or distracted.

Nonetheless, given that the development of natural language use is still in its infancy, machines are not likely to pass a stringent Turing test for some time.

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