New Hospital Internet System
Could Spot Bioterror Attack
By Duncan Graham-Rowe

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 back.
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 or software.
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.

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