I was sent this link to a NY Times article over the weekend – Dizzying Symptoms. In it we read of a patient with an unusual set of symptoms that baffles various doctors. Eventually they find out the cause and it turns out to be a vitamin deficiency that is a not uncommon side effect of a medication being taken by the patient. So, not really usual or baffling symptoms then. Let’s be clear:
- The patient was known to be taking a drug
- Which had a known side effect
- Which caused a disease known to be linked to that side effect
- Which had a classic symptom set, 2 of which (including the one for which the disease is named) the patient had
So why, exactly, is this hard? The author of the article has a book called “Every Patient Tells a Story: Medical Mysteries and the Art of Diagnosis“. Yet this was no mystery – a simple rules-based diagnostic would have identified the cause as soon as a doctor entered a few basic facts about the patient. It was only hard because the doctors were forced to rely on their own memory, and because the drug in question had been out of favor for a while (which decreased the memory of its side effects).
The real mystery is not this patient’s disease but why doctors at a major hospital like this one still don’t have any medical decision-making systems to help them. This one didn’t even need any analytics…