- Posted by Charles
- On June 18, 2012
- Healthcare Technology
For nearly every parent, determining whether their sick infant’s symptoms warrant an ER visit is incredibly difficult. Many reach out to the web for insight. Take “baby fever,” for example. According to babycenter.com, it’s the most common reason for visits to their site. But there’s a ton of information about baby fever on the web – much of it conflicting. When I tried searching myself, I found that general information can be had at webmd.com – which might be okay for the somewhat curious. Searching further, I found parents.com, which features a multi-chapter adventure novel on “baby fever.” I found a better model at babycenter.com, which uses an online “name the problem, check the symptom(s), and then look at the possible diagnosis” model. But the one thing all these models require? Too much effort at a time when your brain is one taco short of a combination plate. The result? Too often, a trip to the ER . . . just to be safe.
Slate Magazine recently noted the majority of ER visits – for minor conditions such as colds, headaches, and feverish babies – could be handled much less expensively in urgent-care clinics or primary-care offices. So, even assuming that sick infants make up only a small portion of these unnecessary ER visits, I would argue that the development of tools to help avert these visits would be highly cost-effective.
Human Emulation, which is not defined in any dictionary that I can find, is imitating the way people communicate so that humans can talk to computers using their own natural, everyday language. (If you’re a visual learner, you may want to watch thisvideo by Next IT.) This technology is usually embodied in a “virtual assistant,” which is an avatar that holds a conversation with the user. With the overwhelming amount of data that’s out there, this technology can help weary parents make a good decision about whether it’s ER go-time. This is how I imagine it would look:
A parent goes to a website and is greeted by a friendly Intelligent Virtual Assistant (IVA) who asks for the details of the medical condition. The parent proceeds to tell the IVA that their baby has a fever and that they are not sure if an ER visit is appropriate. The IVA begins to ask clarifying questions regarding the symptoms accompanying the fever in order to assess the situation. Using algorithms based on information supplied by pediatricians, the IVA then makes some very specific recommendations. For example, it might tell the user: “This does not sound like a situation that requires a visit to the ER – Suggestion: alternate Acetaminophen and Ibuprofen every 4-6 hours as needed for the comfort of your child. If the fever lasts for longer than xx hours, and symptoms do not resolve, proceed to set up a doctor’s appointment with your pediatrician.”
ER visit averted, blood pressure of parents lowered.
Using IVA technology in a medical setting is gaining traction among those in the medical field. Thomas Morrow, M.D., in his article “Using Virtual Assistant Technology to Improve Outcomes, Adherence” makes a compelling case for their use and offers suggestions on additional ways this technology can benefit patients and providers alike. He notes that one current practice involves using a virtual assistant to explain medications to patients who then click on a box that says, “Right” if they understand.
The cool thing is that the more that these IVAs get used, the better their algorithms get; i.e. increased data collection allows for better answers. Try searching for “What combination of symptoms requires me to take my feverish 6 month old to the emergency room?” I just did and the results were awful! I think I speak for many parents and grandparents when I say that IVAs for healthcare can’t arrive too soon.