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David Baxter

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Search engine to aid diagnoses
Thursday, August 30, 2007
Cait Speaker, Cavalier Daily Associate Editor

Hospital installs system to help doctors diagnose more patients correctly

For doctors at the University's hospital, one flesh-eating parasite has changed the face of medical diagnoses.

Doctors are now using a diagnostic system called "Isabel" that allows doctors to enter symptoms and retrieve possible diagnoses. The system is named after a three-year-old girl who suffered from a parasite and multi-system failure because of a misdiagnosis in 1999, according to pediatrics Prof. Stephen Borowitz.

"The system works exactly like a search engine like Google, except instead of searching web pages, it searches medical journals for possible diagnoses," said Joseph Britto, Isabel Healthcare CEO and program creator.

The Web-based program not only allows physicians and nurses to research diagnoses that they may not have considered, but also serves as a powerful teaching tool, Borowitz said. The system operates with statistical, natural language processing that allows a doctor to use both word- and concept-matching to achieve more detailed results.

According to Britto, the system can be open to an entire hospital instead of just a few physicians because it is relatively inexpensive.

"For a yearly subscription in a 500-bed hospital, the system would only cost $900,000," he said, noting that the subscription grants access to the system from any Internet connection.

"And one $900,000 subscription can save a hospital from million-dollar lawsuits," he added.

For doctors, in-depth and up-to-date articles are vital in a hospital setting, Borowitz said.

"One thing Joseph and his colleagues have done well is keeping the database updated with the newest articles and the newest research," Borowitz said, noting however that Isabel may or may not become a permanent installation at the hospital. "In a few years, we will want to see what kind of other sophisticated technology is out there and how Isabel has grown."

According to Borowitz, University doctors and health workers are not required to use the database, noting it is most widely used in the pediatric center because of his personal involvement in the database's implementation.

"We are not providing large-scale training sessions or making Isabel's use mandatory, but it is definitely an available resource and teaching tool," he said.
 

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