We all have faith in our doctors and it is well placed for their knowledge is vast. Sometimes, however, a machine can work a bit faster, especially when it comes to discovering a particular rare hormone disorder known as acromegaly.
Some six out of every 100,000 people have this condition, which is characterized by excessive bone and tissue growth including those in the human face. People suffering from acromegaly receive too much growth hormone, and their faces are usually marked with a large jaw and tongue, widely spaced teeth, and a forehead and checks with enlarged bones.
A recent study funded by a German Research Foundation Grant involved a computer program that analyzed facial characteristics, particularly the distances between diverse features. Results of the study were published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. Researchers took front and side facial photographs of 57 people with the condition and 60 without. The computer was, believe it or not, more accurate than physicians when it came to identifying those participants who had the hormone disorder and those who did not.
After analyzing photographs of individual faces, the computer system was able to select seven times out of every ten those afflicted with the condition while doctors scored only six out of ten times. Doctors felt that they might have fared better if they had more on which to base a diagnosis than just the photos. They felt that a normal examination of hands and feet might have enabled them to guess more correctly.
While the computers were more accurate in this particular case, they will never replace human evaluation. Their accuracy makes them an invaluable diagnostic aid to the physician, who like all of us, is only a human being with the ability to err.