Department SpotlightFaculty-Student Team Develops Intelligent Software Agents
Tens of thousands of hospital patients die every year as a result of medical mistakes, according to a recent study by the Institute of Medicine. It's no wonder given the torrent of medical information that doctors have to wade through in order to make sometimes split-second diagnostic and treatment decisions.
To aid doctors, nurses and other medical professionals, Associate Professor of Computer Science Susan Mabry and her students are developing intelligent software agents -- or "softbots" -- to monitor patient history, vital signs, lab results or other data and then provide diagnostics and recommended courses of action. While the softbots are programmed to independently gather and evaluate data, the goal is to support, rather than replace, doctors.
"We don't see treatment as being automated," says Mabry, who managed a computer research group at Northrop-Grumman Corp. before joining Whitworth's faculty in 1999. "Rather, we see these agents as an advisory resource in complex healthcare environments where the volume of data can be overwhelming."
Mabry's team -- which she describes as being part of one of the best undergraduate computer science research programs in the country, with all of her students going on to graduate school -- is developing a prototype under a National Science Foundation grant and is now seeking National Institutes of Health funding to develop a model for clinical trials.