The software, which provides a medical information hub, was created by scientists at IBM's Zurich Research Laboratory in collaboration with experts from IBM Denmark and is a forward-thinking step towards more user-friendly and smarter health care.
Using a 3D-representation of the human anatomy, the avatar helps medical staff easily navigate an electronic patient file. Doctors can rotate the avatar and zoom in and out to generate the level of detail needed. With the tool, they can also choose between different views, for example enabling inspection of the organs or the circulatory, muscular and nervous systems. Arrows indicate the areas of the body for which medical data is available. By selecting one of these arrows, medical staff have all pertinent information at the click of a mouse.
With nearly 11.000 in-patient beds and more than 65.000 outpatient visits per year, the doctors and nurses at Thy-Mors Hospital in northern Denmark have busy schedules. When Dr. Hardy Christoffersen, head of the hospital's surgical outpatient clinic, sees a patient, he has 15 minutes for an interview, examination and diagnosis, including decisions about what kind of additional treatment may be required. To help ensure accuracy, Dr. Christoffersen must also take into consideration the patient's overall condition, including previous ailments and current health status.
Until now, Dr. Christoffersen and the nursing staff have used the hospital's own electronic health records system. The broad adoption of electronic patient records in Denmark has been a major step in ensuring high-quality treatment in Danish hospitals. However, today's electronic medical record systems are challenged by the increased complexity of medical data and standards and are not always user-friendly. In an effort to further improve patient care, The Northern Region of Denmark, which owns Thy-Mors Hospital, partnered with IBM on a joint research pilot - a so-called first-of-a-kind project - in 2008. After initial work was completed, a pilot solution was tested with a small group of doctors.
"The IBM tool gives me a fantastic, graphic view of the patient's status. I can see much more information than just what the patient tells me is bothering him or her that day - information for which I would otherwise have to spend considerable time searching through our current records system", reported Dr. Christoffersen. "With this medical information hub, I have all the information I need at my fingertips."
The test also showed additional benefits of the visualization: it helped doctors to spot information indirectly related to current health problems but still relevant to the treatment. The technology is also expected to improve doctor-patient dialogue by showing relevant parts of the body on the avatar in an easy-to-understand manner.
Kurt Nielsen, Director of Thy-Mors Hospital, is also satisfied with the pilot. "It means our doctors can work more efficiently", he stated. "This improves patient care." Kurt Nielsen regards the software prototype from IBM as an important step toward the future of e-health. "The IBM solution helps support our ambition to be a paperless hospital. Also, future generations of doctors who have grown up with computers will have an even more natural approach to the use of such electronic health tools."
Dr. André Elisseeff from IBM Business Partner Nhumi Technologies GmbH is one of the inventors of the tool. Stated Dr. Elisseeff: "We put forward an innovative use of IT in health care. By combining medical data with a visual representation, we have tried to simplify access to electronic health information for health care professionals as much as possible, which will benefit all patients."
IBM researchers worked with health care staff to understand their needs, and make the solution user-friendly. Dr. Elisseeff and his colleagues developed software that is capable of learning and performing sophisticated analytics, thereby adding intelligence to the tool. For example, an internet search for "heart trouble" will show all records that contain the words "heart trouble". In a semantic search for "heart trouble" with the tool, the search words are placed in context, and the search results include terms such as "right ventricle", "radiating pain in left arm", and "ECG". The results are shown graphically on the 3D avatar figure.
IBM and Business Partner Nhumi Technologies will collaborate in the commercialization of the technology and plan to work together to further develop innovative health care solutions. More IBM hospital news is available in this VMW issue's article IBM helps deliver smarter health care with web-based "Radiology Theatre".