Computer geek hypochondriacs have long wished for a medical diagnostic program where you tell the computer what you feel like, and it will tell you what you’ve got.
An early effort in this direction was launched in the late 70’s by our Harvard undergraduate roommate, who was developing it while a student at Colombia Medical School.
He was know as Michael Red, due to his waist-length red hair and his fire-engine red classic Porsche. He was developing a program into which doctors could feed all of their observations and test results, and get back a list of the most probable diagnoses, in order of likelihood.
Older doctors thought he was crazy, doctors didn’t use computers, the PC was still a decade away, but we knew he was on to something. Michael Red was one of the smartest people we knew.
Then one summer we came back from an incomplete internship with a shaman in South America to find out that Michael Red was dead, murdered on his grandfather’s Christmas tree farm in Conneticutt by his main colaborator on the medical software project.
But the dream lives on. Today we discovered that WebMD has unveiled a “Symptom Checker” which in some ways goes beyond what Michael had envisioned, primarily because it is designed to be used by the patient rather than the doctor.
It’s very Web 2.o. You start with a model of the human body, and point to where it hurts. Then you answer a series of questions about the pain, discomfort, other symptoms, your age and general health, and BINGO – out pops not one, but about 20 possible conditions you could have.
Obviously, this is like a winning lottery ticket for a hypochondriac, and a goldmine for WebMD. Within minutes of discovering the site, we were convinced that we had dermatomyositis, a helicopactor pyori infection, and an aortic aneurysm.
Of course, information on each of these life-threatening conditions is just a click away on the WebMD site.
But don’t take our word for it.