- A computerised early warning system may soon be monitoring
US hospitals for the first signs of a bioterrorist attack. By raising the
alarm quickly, it could reduce the spread of diseases such as smallpox,
say its developers.
- Called the Lightweight Epidemiology Advanced Detection
and Emergency Response System (LEADERS), it should spot outbreaks of infectious
diseases before doctors are even aware of a problem, says Brigadier General
Klaus Schafer, assistant surgeon general for medical readiness, science
and technology for the US Air Force.
- Via a secure internet connection, LEADERS can extract
details of patients' symptoms and lab results from hospital records, regardless
of what software a hospital uses. This means hospital staff won't have
to do any extra work, says Schafer. "Nurses don't have time to enter
stuff into a computer," he says.
- For example, a doctor examining a patient with a rash
and fever might not immediately think of smallpox, explains Schafer. But
LEADERS would spot if nearby hospitals had patients with similar symptoms
and inform doctors and the relevant government agencies immediately.
- Also, the system will not wait for each case to be diagnosed,
says Schafer. It will learn to recognise symptoms, which can save valuable
time. If, for example, one smallpox case has already been diagnosed in
a particular area then it will assume that any patients with similar symptoms
at different hospitals also have smallpox, long before lab results came
- 60 day roll out
- Originally developed as part of a Defense Advanced Research
Projects Agency project for the US Air Force, the system is already up
and running at 79 military hospitals.
- So far only a couple of dozen civilian hospitals are
using it. But this may change soon, says Brian Jones of the computer company
Oracle, who co-developed the system with Idaho Technology, EYT and ScenPro.
- Jones believes it is technically feasible to roll the
system out to the US's 6000 hospitals in just 60 days. LEADERS is easy
to set up because the software runs off a central server accessed via the
net. That means the hospitals don't have to install any additional hardware
- But persuading hospitals to allow the system to access
confidential information won't be easy. "Getting the hospitals to
agree to share their data is the difficult bit," Jones admits.