Vinod Khosla, venture capitalist, thinks the best way to improve health care is to get rid of most doctors. Human judgment simply cannot compete against machine-learning systems that derive predictions from millions of data points, Khosla told an audience last week, the final day of Stanford University School of Medicine’s Big Data in Biomedicine Conference.
“Biological research will be important, but it feels like data science will do more for medicine than all the biological sciences combined,” he said. “I may be wrong on the specifics, but I think I will be directionally right.”
The Silicon Valley billionaire has been in the news this month for restricting access to a beach south of Half Moon Bay, a move that is being hotly debated in court.
But Khosla devoted his hour-long keynote speech Friday to his long-held belief that technology will replace 80 to 90 percent of doctors’ role in the decision-making process. His is one interpretation of the implications of big data — the popular term for the massive volumes of digital information generated by electronic health records, genetic sequencing, clinical trials and other sources.
“Sufficient data used properly and reduced to the right insights does in fact make up for errors,” Khosla said. “I would rather have 1,500 EKGs (electrocardiograms, a test that checks for problems with the electrical activity of the heart) done much more poorly than two EKGs done a year very well, because the sources of errors in the current system are just too large. When I have two EKGs a year, I may not be symptomatic. I’m not arguing that these systems don’t have errors. I’m saying the volume of the data, properly applied, makes up for it.”
It’s only a matter of time before health care accepts that technology can do a better job of predicting patients’ risks for diseases, diagnosing illnesses and pinpointing the most effective therapies, Khosla said. He noted that Wall Street analysts and pilots also at first resisted, before they embraced, data-driven machines.
In particular, he said, wearable medical sensors, like Fitbit, will give patients power to make informed health and health-related decisions on their own.
Not surprisingly, this argument didn’t go over smoothly with some of the physicians in the crowd.
“I don’t agree with 80 percent of your remarks,” one clinician told him.
Khosla acknowledged his view is often not a popular one, but did not back down.
“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.”
Photo credit: PhysOrg