Can machines outperform doctors? Not yet. But in some areas of medicine, they can make the care doctors deliver better.
Humans repeatedly fail where computers — or humans behaving a little bit more like computers — can help. Even doctors, some of the smartest and best-trained professionals, can be forgetful, fallible and prone to distraction. These statistics might be disquieting for anyone scheduled for surgery: One in about 100,000 operations is on the wrong body part. In one in 10,000, a foreign object — like a surgical tool — is accidentally left inside the body.
Something as simple as a checklist — a very low tech-type of automation — can reduce such errors. For example, in a wide range of settings, surgical complications and mortality fell after implementation of a basic checklistincluding verification of patient identity and body part for surgery, confirmation of sterility of the surgical environment and equipment, and post-surgical accounting for all medical tools. Though simple procedureswould all but eliminate certain sources of infections in hospitals, thousands of patients suffer from them in American hospitals every year.