Third World Medical Mission

August 12, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — The Robertson Research Institute has begun the release of a new medical diagnostic software application called InfoDx, which it’s giving away free to underdeveloped countries where medical facilities and resources are scarce.


The not-for-profit RRI launched the English version of InfoDx in the Dominican Republic market on June 20. InfoDx is the Third World counterpart of NxOpinion, real-time medical diagnostic and treatment software created by RRI to aid physicians and clinicians in the diagnosis of non-chronic illnesses.

NxOpinion will be released in the United States in about three years and will be sold for profit. The profits will help support further improvements in InfoDx and wider distribution of it, said RRI founder and President Joel Robertson, Pharm.D.


“Everything that is done with NxOpinion in the profit world improves the
product that’s used in the Third World,” he said. “The heart of NxOpinion still has the foundation associated with it, so ‘X’ percent of our profits go into the foundation.”


RRI’s goal is to offer unlimited global access to InfoDx, regardless of ability to pay. Robertson said next year InfoDx will probably be available domestically to health-care facilities and clinics in great need.


“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.”


Since software is easily pirated, InfoDx is a “dummied down” technology program that doesn’t have NxOpinion’s artificial intelligence inference engine.


“We don’t care if it’s pirated because our goal is to save lives. There are more lives lost in the Third World than there are here,” he explained. “This way, we were just able to get it out three years faster.”


RRI has patents and copyrights on NxOpinion, which is a very technologically advanced program with an extensive database. Robertson said RRI isn’t going to give that kind of program to the Third World because it will be stolen. Besides, NxOpinion is so “smart” and sophisticated it might confuse users in underdeveloped countries, he noted.

InfoDx is language and culture sensitive and uses drop-down menus and input screens to lead users through a series of questions in order to arrive at a diagnosis and proposed treatments.


It runs on a desktop PC, a Tablet PC or Pocket PC. InfoDx users get new flashcards with updated databases about every six months. The vast majority of countries don’t have great Internet connectivity so it’s a “chip swap,” Robertson said.


“We give them a new chip and get back their old one, so we get information about that country and that’s very important when you’re looking at where health-care improvements need to be made and where the pharmaceuticals should go.”

NxOpinion’s database will update instantly without the use of flashcards. NxOpinion also will take into account the skill level of the medical practitioner and differences in Eastern vs. Western approaches to medicine. The software continuously scans the relationships between evidence entered by the physician — symptoms, patient history, test or imaging results and demographics — and all of the diseases in the NxOpinion extensive profile, and correlates the information into an immediate, at-the-fingertips diagnosis. The diagnosis is refined with each additional finding.


Rotary International distributes InfoDx to underdeveloped countries and serves as its sponsor, so the organization will fund the purchase of hardware or anything else needed to support InfoDx, Robertson noted.


Physicians trained in the Third World know how to diagnose, but they don’t know how to treat illness and disease because all their information is old, he said. InfoDx stores information and treatment options on about 600 known diseases, including tropical diseases and most Third World country diseases.


According to Robertson, each country has 20 to 30 unique diseases, so adding information on 20 to 30 more diseases to the baseline data of 600 is easy.


Prior to InfoDx’s launch, the institute’s team went to the Dominican Republic, worked with Dominican physicians, compiled information on the country’s diseases and culture and plugged it all into InfoDx. They plan to do the same thing country-by-country or region-by-region throughout the developing world.

RRI is now working on a Spanish version of InfoDx and plans to have Rotary International release it next year. French and German versions are planned, as well.

In early 2003 Robertson teamed with the former Sagestone Consulting, along with Microsoft, Hewlett Packard and several West Michigan area subcontractors, to bring NxOpinion to life. They supplied the technical know-how, while the institute supplied the medical expertise. Robertson opened an RRI research and development office in Grand Rapids that summer.

NxOpinion’s early pilot studies were done in the Dominican Republic, the United States, Africa, India and Uruguay.

Sagestone founder Keith Brophy, who is now president of business development for NuSoft Solutions, served as chief technology officer on the NxOpinion project. NuSoft is not involved with the project, but Brophy still serves in an advisory capacity and stays in close synch with NxOpinion’s continuing development.

“I’m on NxOpinion’s advisory board because I believe in the cause; it’s a wonderful cause,” Brophy remarked. “It has been so amazing to see that vision surmount hurdle after hurdle, to see this initiative march steadily on and get where it is today. I heard a lot of doubting Thomas’s along the way, as with any other great transformational initiative.”

He said the project also has been very visible within Microsoft and that “the cause” has really taken hold.

Last year Microsoft produced a documentary on NxOpinion and showed it around the world. Brophy was in Seattle two weeks ago for the opening of a NuSoft office there, and he said the most frequent questions Microsoft attendees asked him were in regard to NxOpinion and the Robertson Research Institute.


RRI and its partners continue to refine NxOpinion, and expects it will be under development for up to three more years. Robertson said by that time the software will have incorporated 80 percent of the data on all known diseases, except orthopedic and psychiatric diseases, as well as infectious diseases, which are already covered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


The software is never really going to be “finished,” he said.


“You’re always adding additional features and more diseases and getting new information. It’s kind of like Mircrosoft does a version; the version is there and it works for you, but they’re already working on version two. We’re working on our next version of NxOpinion as we go.”

He anticipates the first phase of NxOpinion’s release will be in about 27 months and the second phase will follow 12 months later. He also anticipates a lot of high-level employment opportunities will open up as a result.

Brophy would like to see RRI grow in Grand Rapids and maintain a long-term presence here.

“There is certainly future opportunity for many, many West Michigan businesses to be part of the journey ahead,” Brophy said. “NxOpinion has been viewed by tens of thousands of Microsoft team members, thousands of medical professionals and has worldwide visibility.

“It’s probably the best known technology product that’s ever come out of West Michigan.”    

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