In relation to the current global impact of COVID-19 many people wonder, how can technology help doctors in making the right decision or support them in making a better decision.
The COVID-19 story is something more fitting in Hollywood our everyday lives, we all wish that the drama would end, and we couple walk away leaving the trail of popcorn and return out on to the street having enjoyed a good movie. Unfortunately, COVID is real and has highlighted problems that previously has been swept under the rug, the virus has also brought positive change such as appreciating the nurses and doctors more and working from home, although at this moment the positive is no match to the negative impact.
Medical staff all around the world are under more pressure than ever to save lives, work longer hours than they already do and to perform miracles every hour. Most, if not all, hospitals were not prepared for this virus. The majority of governments around the world are still playing catch up and trying to take control of the situation. Some hospitals are exceeding capacity and, with the growing volume of patients, this affects the amount of available medical supplies and care given to both staff and patient. Many doctors, for the first time, may have to choose who to help, this could mean making the decision of who lives and who dies, something that they are trained to understand but not necessarily trained to do or thought they would ever have to do. Nobody wants to be in this position once let alone to make on a daily or hourly or patient by patient basis.
Difficult times indeed I think we can all agree. Our interest here is to think about technology and how this can help.
Have you seen the Netflix film “I am Mother”? (No Spoilers) There is a part in the film where the child is taking a test and is asked a question about saving lives as if the child was a doctor. The hypothetical doctor in the test is presented with the situation of saving a life based on data, the child must answer and to make a decision as to save the patient’s life or not? Naturally this is a difficult situation to be in and a hard question to answer and hard decision to make, this is because we (humans) are emotional, compassionate and conscious beings. Why do I want to say who lives and who dies? I am not a God. This is the situation medical staff are facing on who to save in an epidemic like COVID-19. Is this fair? Should this decision be left to a doctor who has to make this decision daily, what impact will this have long term? Could this type of decision making be supported by a trained computer? Neither has to be the one who only makes the decision but both human and computer can support one another in the decision making process.
A similar approach has been taken in the USA for legal prosecutions, judges have been using a computer software application called Compas to help them make non bias decisions. Compas takes data and processes the data through the algorithms to produce the results. A judge can use these results for making their decision on sentencing, it is an extra point of view much like an automated jury. Computer algorithms are built by humans but certain algorithms which are used in AI or ML applications can make independent decisions that are not manipulated by human decisions or thought. Although, all algorithms will have biases due to being built by a human and the underlining code that makes the decision has set weights, limits and thresholds which were all set by humans. Then the software used all this and comes up with an independent answer.
The Compas approach could be replicated into the medical system to support doctors in making difficult decisions much like the decisions they’re currently facing due to COVID-19. Obviously, some of these decisions such as they only have 10 ventilators and 12 people in need can be better supported by being better prepared next time and having 15 ventilators. However next time there maybe new things that we could not predict or plan adequality.
Offering support mechanisms for people to make better decisions isn’t new, financial traders and scientists have been using computers for years, we all use computers to help us make better decisions. The time is now to start a new approach to decision making and accept that augmenting humans with good software is not something to be frightened of.