Thomas McGinn, chairman of medicine at a major New York hospital system, is betting he can predict if a patient has strep, pneumonia or other ailments not by ordering traditional lab tests or imaging scans, but by calculating probabilities with a software program.

Dr. McGinn, who is with Northwell Health, which has 21 hospitals in New York, is running a pilot program to test the system on patients with suspected pulmonary embolism in emergency departments at two of the hospitals he oversees.

As would be expected, many doctors balk at the idea of a computer program telling them how to do their job.

The calculator makes diagnosis and treatment decisions seem simple when they really aren t, says John Beasley, a family doctor for more than 40 years whose Verona, Wis., clinic is participating in one of the trials.

But proponents of predictive models say doctors are free to ignore calculated predictions, particularly if their instinct is to dig deeper.

The study results were disclosed in May at a meeting of the Society of General Internal Medicine.

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