Infographic Of The Day: Could A Tool Like This Turn Every M.D. Into Dr. House?

A superb new infographic from GE peels back the decision process that doctors go through during a health exam.

When you visit the doctor complaining of a cough or stomach pain, they usually seem to know what to do: They'll ask if you have trouble breathing, or check your heart rate. But it's all a little baffling: What are they checking for? What illnesses could it be? This remarkable new infographic by GE, working with MIT's SENSEable City Lab, peels back how various symptoms of illness are linked, giving you a tantalizing look into the mind of a doctor.

The interactive chart is powered by 7.2 million medical records, gathered between 2005 and 2010. Using these, MIT's data wizards were able to figure out how often one symptom was linked to another. Here, for instance, are the common things that might happen after a routine medical exam:


[Click to see interactive version]

And here are the symptoms most commonly linked to a cough:


The color coding, as you can guess, indicates the basic category that a symptom falls under. Thus, you can see that coughs are occasionally linked to infections, but more often they're indicative of chronic respiratory problems.

If all that node mapping stuff is confusing, you can also look at the entire chart another way: As a circle with all the symptoms on the outside ring, and links displayed as lines:


You've got to wonder if doctors in the future wouldn't be helped by a tool like this: Sure, their personal experience is important, but why not aid them with a data visualization that shows how likely various sicknesses are, based on the symptoms? Right now, it's mostly a binary decision built on clues: You either have Hodgkin's disease, or you don't. But backing up to the initial medical exam, shouldn't a doctor, upon seeing your swollen lymph nodes, be perfectly aware of how likely all the various diagnoses are? Something like that might turn every doctor into a modern day House, M.D.

Systems like these might also lower medical costs: Doctors routinely screen for farfetched diseases, just to eliminate them as a possibility. If we can make smarter decisions based on likely outcomes, then we should be able to save money as well.

Click here to visit the interactive chart.

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  • Emily Rice

    This is actually what is happening in most MD brains during a medical examination - they are taught to consider the most common options first, then do follow-up testing for rare diseases if needed. However, the advent of WebMD and other online tools have made patients more aware of worst-case scenarios, and they are now asking for advanced testing earlier in the diagnosis process. Most MDs would hold of on testing if patients didn't ask for it.

  • Aqualight Sunny

    technology is changing the shape of everything , now patients are far more knowledgable , i think thats good , lesser the responsibility on doctors the better it is . technology can be liberating in a great sense , i would never like to remember data now , there is no need , i can focus on other things . Life is much simpler , i can just work on the creative side . People are getting smarter and know much more about how to take care of themselves than most doctors think .

  • slavko

    phenomenal concept, but bad implementation, it had to be a better flash coder

  • angela torres

    I have enjoy this video,  and  of course I am interested in to know how a student could have acces to this tool. because it is a nice way to learn!