January 24, 2006

New software will help doctors with patient care

by Tim Crosby

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- A computer scientist at Southern Illinois University Carbondale is working on software that might someday support doctors nationwide as they seek to accurately diagnose and treat patients.

Shahram Rahimi, assistant professor of computer science, is working with a Southern Illinois medical clinic and its parent company to develop the decision-support software. The Herrin Clinic awarded Rahimi a $34,000 grant for the first phase of the project now under way, which will assist physicians there.

"It is artificial intelligence-based software that helps clinics make decisions on different aspects of patient care," Rahimi said. "Such a decision-support system can cover many things. Right now, we're studying what will make the best system for this clinic."

One possible configuration of the system would allow doctors to input a great amount of data on individual patients, such as detailed medical history, medications, lifestyle, signs and symptoms. The program would chew on the data and give the health care practitioner guidance in determining a course of action with the patient.

Rahimi, who has been at SIUC since 2002, said several low-power versions of such software currently exist, most of it limited to prescription medication. His proposal involves creating a system that is much more sophisticated and finding ways to interface it with other existing databases and systems.

Other aspects might involve applying software that can evaluate the quality of research on certain medications, helping patients and doctors to make more informed choices when selecting a course of treatment.

Rahimi and two graduate assistants also are researching ways to make such a system Web-based. The goal is to create a system that medical clinics across the country could subscribe to and access from any location.

"What's out there now is very limited software. Our idea is to have something Web-based, something that would provide information to the whole community and nationally," Rahimi said. "The biggest thing we have to watch is how to personalize and plug it into current systems."

Rahimi praised the medical staff at Herrin Clinic for being forward-thinking in their approach.

"The doctors over there love doing this. The clinic is very high-tech," he said.

The funding should last through fall semester 2006. Rahimi hopes to complete most of the pre-design work by then and begin writing the software soon after.

Leading in research, scholarly and creative activities is among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the blueprint the University is following as it approaches its 150th anniversary in 2019.