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How Algorithms Could Improve Primary Care

Automated clinical algorithms promise to transform primary care. Clinical algorithms specify the steps of a clinical process, leading from inputs such as a patient’s diagnosis to outputs such as recommendations for medication, further diagnostic testing, imaging, or even specialty referrals. Once automated, they direct the care process without real-time clinician input.

Automated clinical algorithms can be as simple as age-based rules that trigger a scheduling call for a preventive vaccination or as complex as an automated clinical pathway specifying a series of tests and treatments for chronic conditions such as high blood pressure. As has been demonstrated during the Covid-19 pandemic, done well, they enhance operational efficiency and maximize clinical quality. But tapping their full potential will require adherence to six principles developed over 75 years for automating the clinical trial — which we will discuss in this article.


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