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Sun daddy: 'Machines will replace 80 per cent of doctors'

In Khosla's future, healthcare will be served up by entrepreneurs, not docs

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According to Sun Microsystems cofounder and serial entrepreneur Vinod Khosla, 80 per cent of doctors could be replaced by machines – computing devices backed by imense data sets.

Speaking at the recent Health Innovation Summit in San Francisco, Khosla referred to today's physicians as "voodoo doctors," noting that "Health care is like witchcraft and just based on tradition," according to conference attendee Davis Liu, who discussed Khosla's provocative comments in a blog post.

"Khosla believed that patients would be better off getting diagnosed by a machine than by doctors," Liu wrote, and that the ex-Sunner was of the opinion that creating a comprehensive diagnostic system was a simple problem to solve, and one not requiring doctors to build it.

According to Liu, Khosla said that a machine-learning based healthcare system could be cheaper, more accurate, and more objective than a flesh-and-blood doctor, and could contain enough diagnostic information to put it in the 80ther percentile of doctordom.

When Khosla challenged the assembled sawbones to counter his argument, Liu said, the room was silent.

"Was it because everyone agreed?," Liu asked. "Were the doctors in the room simply stunned? Was there a doctor in the house?"

As an example of smart health tech, Khosla brandished an iPhone-operated mobile ECG heart monitor from AliveCor – a start-up in which his VC firm, Khosla Ventures, has invested.

In his thoughtful blog post – definitely worth a read (along with its intelligent commenters) should you be interested in the future of health care – Liu agrees with Khosla that much can and should be done to improve diagnostic tools, but that to consign that development solely to entreprenuers and to ignore doctors "who meet humanity everyday on the front-lines is problematic and dangerous."

Certainly the entrepeneurial tech world can help the medical profession, and do so big-time, but we wholeheartedly agree with Liu when he says, "There are some things that may never be codified or driven into algorthims. Call it a doctor's experience, intuition, and therapeutic touch and listening."

Perhaps Khosla's "80 per cent solution" is inevitable, but this Reg reporter fears that a future automated health system would simply be another wedge between the rich and the poor, with the 1 per cent able to afford presonal physicians while we in the 99 per cent being poked, prodded, diagnosed, and prescribed by unfeeling iDoctors.

Should we live that long. ®

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