False Authority

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I recently stumbled across an article that gave an account of the following situation: a man is driving in his car on an Austrian highway, he misses the exit, his GPS device tells him to turn around and so he does, thereby causing a major accident. Upon inquiry by the police, he was found to be in “good mental state” and his blood alcohol test was negative. After talking to my colleagues about it, many of them told me that they had read about or heard of comparable situations before!

On a similar note, Seth Godin recently posted the following incident on his blog: on a road trip, the female voice of his Garmin told him to go right, but he knew the GPS was mistaken, so he turned left. He writes: “As I turned left instead of right, I heard her [Garmin’s] voice hectoring me, beseeching me to go right. And I confess, I felt terrible. I was disobeying. Not following instructions.”

Strange isn’t it? What’s happening here is that we are attributing authority to these (and similar) computer-like devices. I think this has important implications for physicians. Healthcare and hospitals have turned into huge toy-houses with loads of gadgets and computers that are telling us what to do!

These implications are:

1. Be aware that computers are fallible.

2. Train your clinical judgment and instincts (use your stethoscope again, talk to the patients, touch them on a physical and emotional level, etc.)

3. Always distrust output from a computer, that is in disagreement with your clinical judgment.
At Medcrunch, we are all into gadgets and tools. However, they can only complement, never replace good clinical skills. Would be interesting to hear your thoughts on the issue.

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