The Imitation Game of Medicine

I love good movies and marvel at Hollywood, their creativity and the ability to capture people’s imaginations. But I also love medicine. I especially find it amusing when I see a movie that parallels my perspectives on medicine.

Recently, my wife and I watched the Imitation Game with Benedict Cumberbatch.

Quad_BC_AW_[26237] Imitation Game, The

It was terrific.

Briefly, it’s about Alan Turing; a brilliant mathematician and father of modern computing who decoded the impossibly complex Nazi Enigma machine, helped the Allies win WWII, all while battling persecution and oppression as a homosexual in Great Britain.

The basic premise of his challenge was that he had 18 hours each day to manually decipher Nazi military messages from combinations of letters and numbers that exceeded hundreds of millions. It was an impossible daily task for even the most brilliant minds. But he overcame this by designing a machine that could break parts of the code faster than the human mind thereby augmenting his team’s ability to decipher each critical message.

Though not fractionally as brilliant as Alan Turning, my life as Internist has parallels to this story.

Patients are each like their own enigma machine. Underneath, they are an amalgamation of billions of processes (some detrimental) sending out signals that we have to manually decipher in a myriad of ways. Instead of an 18 hour clock, the clock is variable with each patient. And unfortunately despite all our best genuine efforts and available technology  we sometimes fail to capture and decrypt enough of the messages to make an even greater difference.

Essentially, medicine is still waiting for its Alan Turing moment. Right now, researchers, entrepreneurs and others are trying to find the best way to capture all the signals. Wearable technology, mobile phones, genomics, advanced blood and radiologic testing and other modalities are on a crash course towards creating a monumental repository of real-time “Big Data” on each patient. And just like Turning, despite how adept we may seem as physicians, we will need the raw power of digital computing to crack these codes

Once we do this, medicine will be completely different and physicians will be empowered with a revolutionary perspective on how we view disease and manage life.



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