Sagestone Into Global Health Picture

January 9, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — Early last year, Sagestone Consulting and Saginaw-based Robertson Research Institute quietly embarked on a philanthropic mission to save lives the world over.

The partners have developed — and continue to refine — real-time medical diagnostic software called NxOpinion to aid physicians in the diagnosis of non-chronic illnesses.

NxOpinion is a highly sophisticated diagnostic software package that works with an equally sophisticated medical database.

Together, the application and the database provide handheld diagnostics, said Keith Brophy, president and CEO of Sagestone Consulting and chief technology officer on the project.

It’s the first software of its kind to use artificial intelligence, and is multi-level, multi-cultural and multi-lingual, he said. And later this year, NxOpinion will be made available at no cost to needy hospitals and clinics worldwide.

Both Sagestone and the Robertson Research Institute are hailed among the Business Journal’s top 10 Newsmaker of the Year finalists for the vision and philanthropic nature of their initiative. (On Monday, the Business Journal awarded the honor to DeVos Place.)

Pharmacologist Joel C. Robertson said the Robertson Research Institute will distribute NxOpinion free to areas of the world where medical facilities and resources are scarce and, domestically, to facilities in disadvantaged areas.

“We want to provide this with unlimited access, regardless of ability to pay,” Robertson said.

“We don’t want to keep information that can save lives from anyone just because they don’t have the money. We have the support to do this in a nonprofit environment, and that’s the only way I would do this.”

NxOpinion analyzes information supplied by physicians — symptoms, test or imaging results, and patient history — and provides feedback by leading through a series of questions and suggestions.

Each additional finding refines the diagnosis.

Initially, the software will be available online for use with laptops and electronic tablets. Ultimately, NxOpinion support will be provided through hand-held wireless computers, offering physicians a vast medical database of more than 5,000 disease profiles at their fingertips.

It takes into consideration not only language differences, but cultural differences, the skill level of the medical practitioner and differences in Eastern vs. Western approaches to medicine.

Sagestone and Microsoft, along with Hewlett-Packard and a number of West Michigan-area subcontractors, have been supplying the technical expertise, while the nonprofit Robertson Research Institute has been providing the medical expertise.

As Brophy pointed out, with all the medical knowledge available today, no doctor can possibly retain every bit of information and do the correlation, the filtering and the matching of cause-and-effect relationships.

“The only way to integrate all the medical specialties into one area is by using computer technology,” Robertson said.

“But you have to take it one step further. You can’t just make it a library of research because those already exist. You have to have a program that can give you exceptions and think for you.”

By November both the database and software were in use in early pilot studies at locations in the Dominican Republic. As of last month, about 30 physicians were testing and critiquing the software in controlled settings and giving early pilot feedback. Next up are usability studies in South Africa, India and Uruguay.

Brophy anticipates NxOpinion will be ready to be released to the world this September, and will be available in English, French, German and Spanish.

Microsoft recently selected NxOpinion medical software as the subject of both video and written case studies, and NxOpinion was one of 12 technology solutions featured at Microsoft’s analyst teleconference last month.

Two teams, one in Saginaw and another in South Africa, are dedicated to updating NxOpinion’s content continuously. New flashcards with an updated database are expected to be available about every six months.

The ability to manage the content on time, instantly, around the world, with constant updates and proven research — that’s the staggering part of the whole effort, Robertson observed.

As of August 2003, the initiative had pumped some $4 million into the Grand Rapids economy and about $1 million into the Saginaw economy in software development alone.

Robertson anticipates the project will inject $30 million into the West Michigan economy, predominantly Grand Rapids, over the next five years. 

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