Why Medicine is Like Witchcraft and What it Could Be: An Interview with Vinod Khosla
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Rock Health, a seed accelerator targeting health-related mobile and web applications, recently held their second ever Health Innovation Summit, bringing together over 300 innovators, academics, clinicians, and investors to inspire dialogue and action around innovation in healthcare. The goal was for the conversation to include diverse and dissenting voices, and one speaker’s comments from the Summit sparked a heated debate regarding just how technology, in particular machine learning and artificial intelligence, will transform healthcare as we know it.
Vinod Khosla’s keynote was the subject of much (healthy) debate last week, invoking impassioned responses from all sides, particularly high-profile physicians. Khosla, an Indian-born American businessman and venture capitalist, sees a huge opportunity for innovation at the intersection of technology and human health. In a healthcare world of reimbursements and insurance and the FDA, he said, innovation in healthcare is often stifled. From his perspective, changing technology will enable a doctor to “stop being a practitioner of voodoo medicine and be an intelligent scientist.”
Khosla described a vision of a data-driven healthcare world which is based on his philosophy that “everything that’s possible eventually happens,” but how long it takes to get there depends on the incumbents that stay in the way. His perspective comes partly from his experience in his home country of India, where there is no FDA and very few actual MDs. Without these, which he suggests are limiting to innovation, new ideas and technologies can take root. “Why do we limit what we attempt just because the FDA does some regulation?” he asked.
His vision of healthcare is focused particularly on the power of technology to diagnose illness, saying that “machine learning makes a much better Dr. House than Dr. House,” referring to the brilliant and charmingly sarcastic TV doctor. He asserted that 80% of doctors can be replaced by software–likely the remark that incited many of the heated responses from physicians. “I would much rather have a system that objectively diagnoses my disease,” he said, “than the median or average doctor. And everyone thinks they have better than average, but they don’t.”
Khosla does admit he has a bias when it comes to medicine which is that the practice of medicine is no different than the practice of witchcraft, in the sense that “you have a set of practices and you do them because the people before you did them…that’s what a practice means.” He hopes that the next generation of healthcare, however, will be about the scientific arrival at conclusions with the understanding of probabilities, statistics, and math.
To illustrate his point, he described the potential of a small, inexpensive breath analyzing device which can detect the onset of an asthma attack, diabetes, or even specific types of lung cancer, whereas a very costly CT Scan can detect only the nodule but not the type of cancer. This kind of inexpensive but effective technology changes the equation–“this is real science and real data.”
In sum, Khosla says he sees healthcare as the opportunity to solve large problems with cool technology. Do you agree with his vision? You can watch Vinod Khosla’s interview with Thomas Goetz from Health Innovation Summit below and decide for your