The November 11th issue of the British Medical Journal published a very interesting study: The authors report that out of 26 carefully chosen cases from the New England Journal of Medicine, a Google search using the symptoms was successful in making the right diagnosis in 15 cases. Makes me think that its only a matter of time before a new BPO industry comes into being- medical diagnosis.

Lets call this fairy tale “One day in the life of Dr. Mahesh T. Google”. Once upon a time, John Doe of Topeka, Kansas went to the local Acme Medical HMO complaining of a headache, blurry vision and a sharp pain in his spleen. Unfortunately for John, just that very month Acme had cut back on its roster of doctors by 25 percent because of increasing insurance costs. If it were not for the courage and quick thinking of Agnes Munchausen, an administrative assistant at Acme Medical, John would have been in a whole lot of trouble. The intrepid Agnes, realizing the gravity of the situation, immediately sent an email with Johns symptoms to Dr. Mahesh.

You might be wondering about Dr. Mahesh. Who is this superman of medicine? Does he fly around the world with a big syringe etched on his cape. No, no, none of that for Dr. Mahesh. He was a typical small town lad, a poster boy for the new India. From the time he was a child, Mahesh was a romantic, preferring to think big to thinking small. And since this is a good fairy tale, his dreams came true. After getting his BSc in agroforestry from Ghanshyam Das college in Jamnagar, Mahesh went chasing his passions, eventually landing in Mumbai, not in Bollywood, but in that other Indian knowledge industry: Information Technology. In Mumbai, nee Bombay, Mahesh found his calling; he became one of the hundred thousand doctor.googles working for Ulhas. B. Karmachandani Inc, the leading provider of medical diagnoses in the world. Within six months of working for Ulhas.B, Mahesh had learnt how to use Google to diagnose symptoms within one minute or less with an accuracy of 95 percent, better than the best doctor in the US of A.

Anyway, back to our story. As soon as Dr. Mahesh saw Agnes’s email, he went to work. In less than a minute, he had diagnosed John’s ailment and in five minutes he had sent an email to Agnes with a quick report. Agnes forwarded Dr Mahesh’s report to her boss, the (real) Dr. Thomas. P. Milford the third. Dr Tom, as he was known affectionately to his patients, ushered John Doe into his office, sat him down and told him the bad news and the good news. The bad news was that John had ZXY syndrome. The good news was that Roche had just put out a new drug, zxyicitin, into the market just for people like John.

Upon hearing the good news, John was ecstatic. A years worth of zxyicitin cost 200,000 dollars but insurance would cover all but 20,000 of it, so while John would have to take out a new mortgage on his house, he wouldn’t have to sell it. He thanked Dr Tom profusely, took his prescription downstairs, got it filled and started popping the pills immediately. John knew he would have to tell his son, John Jr to take out a loan for college or join ROTC, but secretly John Sr was happy. John Jr was getting a bit troublesome, and ROTC would do him good. This year, in his state of the union address, the president had promised the US would invade 16 new countries. There was plenty of fun to go around for all the young men and women in the country.

Meanwhile, back in Mumbai nee Bombay, Dr. Mahesh had diagnosed one hundred and four more cases in thirty four states of the American Union. After a particularly tough one, he got up, went to the bathroom and drank a cup of coffee. On the way back to his cubicle, he passed the administrative assistants office. This morning, the admin was Priya, a particularly attractive girl. Priya looked at Dr. Mahesh and said “I heard you saved hundred and three lives today” (Actually Priya hadn’t heard, she knew since Ulhas B. Karmachandani’s employees were monitored on a 24/7 basis. Priya knew exactly how many patients had been treated by each Dr. Mahesh looked at Priya, gave a shy smile and said, “yes, it has been a good day” and kept walking. If he was not mistaken, he could hear Priya’s soft voice whispering “my hero” over and over again. Dr. Mahesh was happy.

All’s well that ends well.

PS: 15/26 is certainly better than what the average doctor in a rural health clinic in India would be able to do. I wonder if the govt of India should put a networked computer in every health clinic in the country and train community health workers to search on google and diagnose diseases. Might well be cheaper, more efficient and safer than trusting our farmer’s health to disgruntled MBBS’s.