a heart surgeon doing math

A worthwhile read:

Medical Guesswork

Modern medicine seems to have missed the usefullness of using mathematics as a decision making process.  This article is about Dr. David Eddy, a cardiac surgeon, who “discovered the beauty of mathematics and its promise of answering medical questions.”  After making it through a two-year math course in a couple of months, he persuaded Stanford to accept him as a PhD student in the mathematically intense field of Engineer-Economics Systems.  He has since spent his career promoting what he calls, “Evidence-based medicine.”

Apparently there is a truly alarming number of common practices, treatments and medicines that are utilized, not because of proven effectiveness, but merely as “cherished physician myths.”  As a couple of examples he showed that the annual chest X-ray is worthless, and he traced the general practice of preventing women from giving birth vaginally if they had previously had a cesarian to one lone doctor’s recommendation.

One of the more interesting portions of the article is where it describes Eddy’s development of a computer model that helped him crack the “diabetes puzzle.”

The human brain, Eddy explains, needs help to make sense of patients who have combinations of diseases, and of the complex probabilities involved in each. To provide that assistance, Eddy has spent the past 10 years leading a team to develop the computer model that helped him crack the diabetes puzzle. Dubbed Archimedes, this program seeks to mimic in equations the actual biology of the body, and make treatment recommendations as well as figure out what each approach costs. It is at least 10 times “better than the model we use now, which is called thinking,” says Dr. Richard Kahn, chief scientific officer at the American Diabetes Assn.

I strongly recommend this article as just another example of the many, many applications of mathematics that make a real difference in the world.

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