Health

Valley heavyweight Vinod Khosla says replacing doctors with data crunchers is good medicine

Above: Vinod Khosla, onstage at VentureBeat's DataBeat conference.

Image Credit: Michael O'Donnell

One day venture capitalist Vinod Khosla gets in a fight with surfers over access to a beach with sweet waves, and the next he’s over at Stanford saying that he thinks the healthcare system would be a lot better off if most doctors were replaced by Big Data crunchers. Wow. Lose friends much?

“Biological research will be important, but it feels like data science will do more for medicine than all the biological sciences combined,” the Silicon Valley heavyweight said at the Stanford University School of Medicine’s Big Data in Biomedicine Conference Friday. “I may be wrong on the specifics, but I think I will be directionally right,” Khosla said.

Khosla has for a long time believed that machines armed with mountains of data will (and should) make most of the clinical decisions in the future, eliminating the need for most doctors. Humans, he believes, just can’t handle enough data to understand and prevent illness.

“Humans are not good when 500 variables affect a disease. We can handle three to five to seven, maybe,” he said. “We are guided too much by opinions, not by statistical science.”

Khosla may be “directionally” right that Big Data will end up being a big deal for healthcare, it’s one of the industries that has the most to gain from data science. That’s a big part of the reason the federal government is mandating the use of electronic health records — so that mountains of patient and treatment data can be captured in digital form, and studied.

We imagine huge databases pulling health and non-health information from a thousands of sources, predicting when disease will strike, and forecasting the efficacy of treatments.

The scary thing about Big Data is that it’s cold science. Big Data might predict the incidence of diabetes by learning that it correlates with some random marker like purse thefts or banana imports. Big Data doesn’t care, as long as the prediction works.

A human doctor is more likely to try to predict diabetes by tying it to factors that bear a natural, causal, relation to the disease, like obesity or junk food intake.

In all likelihood both of these approaches — the cold science and the warm — will end up being useful in making people healthier in the years to come. And doctors will more than likely be the ones to formulate the questions we need to ask of the data, and the ones to figure out how to put the answers to work at ground level.

Kohsla’s comments hit an old sore spot for doctors, who have been grousing for years about “cookie cutter medicine” driven by new health IS systems. Any doctor will tell you that practicing medicine is both science and art.

Naturally, some of the doctors in the audience at Stanford didn’t care much for Khosla’s comments. “I don’t agree with 80 percent of your remarks,” said one.

Via: SF Gate


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32 comments
KrishSwamy1
KrishSwamy1

@mjcavaretta but it will take time - Blockbuster took 8+y to wind up after biz model broke down - and that's without lobbying support

Greg Towne
Greg Towne

sure, he has made some points that aren't groundbreaking and has been discussed before...we are heading into an age where analytics can serve as a tool for making better decisions but that doesn't mean doctors are replaceable...they just need help, which is safe to say about any industry (unfortunately, analytics seem to be more focused in the consumer sector..$$$...good for investors, meaningless for a better future)

Nicholas M. Cummings
Nicholas M. Cummings

The key is ACCURATE data, which human assessment is far ahead of for now

Garrett Bennicas
Garrett Bennicas

This douche is in ahole, end of story, stop covering him...

Thyaga Venkat
Thyaga Venkat

You don't replace doctor with data. I will never want to me my own family doctor irrespective of how smart or dumb I am with all the available data. You can avoid paying the co-pay and not waste the time for those doctor visits by just looking up the web.

Joel Bondurant
Joel Bondurant

Automated medical diagnostics is a great topic, I hope the old man has a brain tumor and doesn't live to see it.

Sumi Allen
Sumi Allen

Yup. Google > 2 different specialists I lost money on.

Jan S. Mahler
Jan S. Mahler

I'm surprised he recalled his opinion on doctors.

Alex Amato
Alex Amato

Heavy with greed, let the people access the beach.

KrishSwamy1
KrishSwamy1

@mjcavaretta so tradeoff b/w Black-swan cases where machines 'might' get it wrong or 1000s of regular cases where drs DO get it wrong

KrishSwamy1
KrishSwamy1

@mjcavaretta @AAAPgr All drs cannot be replaced by m/cs e.g. surgeons - m/cs have an edge during diagnostics - vast data, ID'able patterns