So what is a patient to do when facing a horrific disease and that patient must make major decisions about a treatment program within days? That question was the inspiration for Michael Vassar, the cofounder of MetaMed. Ashlee Vance reports on MetaMed’s role in these serious medical diagnosis and treatment situations (“Take Two of These and Call Me in the Morning” Bloomberg Businessweek, 6/17/13–6/23/13, pp. 37–38):
“[MetaMed] seeks to use data analysis techniques to better diagnose patients facing grave illnesses. At its core, MetaMed tries to offer a second opinion that’s more nuanced and more thoroughly researched than those of most general practitioners. When a patient contacts the company and provides information about his or her illness, staffers enter the data into an analysis and collaboration system that enlists a team of consultants from a growing 40-person network. In addition to physicians and medical specialists, there are chemists, molecular biologists, data scientists, librarians, and others.” (p. 37)
By enlisting help in a multidiscipline fashion, the patient stands to benefit. The idea is to leave no stone unturned. This approach is superior to the single doctor. As wonderful as doctors can be, when a patient’s life is on the line, more resources are better. MetaMed’s broader approach ensures a more thorough look at all possible treatment options for the patient:
“Researchers drawn from Google and top universities compare the patient’s case with the latest scientific studies, medical journals, and health data, seek out the procedures and hospitals that offer them the best chance at recovery, and give patients a wider look at their treatment options than a physician might provide.” (p. 37)
I think MetaMed represents a wonderful confluence of knowledge, the Internet, and patient focus. While I realize too many cooks can spoil the broth, I am also intensely aware of how important a multitude of counselors is when making life-and-death decisions. My hope is MetaMed will live long and prosper. Exactly how that path unfolds remains to be seen.
As usual, cost is a significant factor. Pricing includes $8,000 initially, with additional follow-ups running at $5,000 each. Vassar hopes the service’s value will be recognized, thereby allowing MetaMed to scale quickly for everyone’s benefit:
“[Vassar] isn’t pursuing health-care insurers to cover his MetaMed services, which aren’t approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. ‘We would much rather incrementally lower prices via economies of scale than work with insurance, which empirically leads to incrementally rising prices,’ he says. So far, MetaMed is relying on positive reviews and referrals from its clientele.” (p. 38)
Human intelligence is absolutely necessary in making major healthcare decisions. Nevertheless, if we can augment that process with some well-designed artificial intelligence, then we maximize our odds of arriving at the best choices.