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Electronic healthcare at the click of a mouse
10 March 2011
Health literacy is a prerequisite for well being in the developed world with five out of five ailments being treatable by patients themselves given access to appropriate information. However, when symptoms appear, it is often difficult for a patient to make the right decision even given access to suitable health information and deciding whether their ailment is the one out of five that requires a health professional becomes a difficult task.
Researchers in Romania have developed a web-based approach - design for all (DFA) - solution to the problem of personal health assessment that guides a user through a symptom-orientated process and their medical history in order to determine whether or not a health professional is required or whether a patient can manage their own treatment with appropriate, rest and over-the-counter medication.
Writing in the International Journal of Knowledge and Web Intelligence, Paulina Mitrea of the Technical University Cluj-Napoca, and colleagues, explain the development of their e-health system, which exploits what they refer to as a "highly sophisticated medical rules-engine."
The researchers explain that modern information and communications technology are revolutionising healthcare. "E-health promises to bring many advantages like increased efficiency, enhancing quality of care, empowerment of consumers and patients, encouragement of a new relationship between patient and health professional and extending the scope of healthcare beyond its conventional boundaries," the team explains. The benefits are improved well-being for patients and reduced costs to healthcare providers.
They point out that with current technology, a computer-based diagnosis is not likely to be adequate in many cases. However, a simplified advice system that can accurately assess symptoms and offer guidance as to whether professional healthcare is needed or not could be implemented with current technology. The team's web-based system evaluates symptoms according to 32 attributes each garnered from the patient via tailored questions. Symptoms can have a range of answers depending on the symptom type: fever, headache, other pain, breathlessness etc. The "matrix" of patient responses are then fed through an algorithm, the medical rules database in computer form, to determine a possible diagnosis and severity of the ailment presented.