Doctor Diagnosis

By: Philip Stewart Email
By: Philip Stewart Email

September 12, 2007

It's called 'Isabel.' It is a web-based medical technology that generates a list of possible diagnoses based on a patient's symptoms.

It is helping doctors at UVa pinpoint a patient's diagnosis.

"It's not meant to make the diagnosis for me, but it's meant to make me think about all the possibilities, so I think it exposes some of my potential mistakes," said Dr. Stephen Borowitz, a Professor of Pediatrics and Public Health at the UVA Medical Center.

Think of it as Google for doctors. Physicians enter some symptoms. Isabel then searches for a diagnosis based on an almost endless amount of medical data.

"(Isabel searches) thousands of documents from medical textbooks and journals to give you, as the expert, in an instant, a list of likely suspects for you to consider," explained Dr. Joseph Britto, the CEO and Co-Founder of Isabel Healthcare, Inc.

"It's impossible for me to keep a list of all the rare diseases that are possibilities out there in my head all the time, so Isabel can bring a lot of that to the front," added Borowitz.

According to the 2003 Journal of the American Medical Association, doctors misdiagnose eight to 24 percent of the time. So many see Isabel as a welcome tool. But even its strongest supporters make it clear that Isabel is an assisting tool. It's not meant to replace a physicians knowledge or experience.

"Isabel is not an oracle, it's not some wise Yoda-the-Jedi master that knows everything," said Britto.

It may not be perfect, but in 2005, a study found it to be 96 percent accurate when key symptoms were entered.

And doctors say Isabel is a sign of things to come.

"Colleagues will no longer carry around paper-based records," said Britto. "We'll be carrying around digital records."

Isabel isn't just limited to use with patients at the Medical Center. Doctors also say it's a valuable educational tool for medical students.

UVa is one of about 20 hospitals across the country that currently has access to the Isabel system, which was developed about eight years ago.

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