NxOpinion Seeks Partners

April 2, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — The Robertson Research Institute recently opened a Grand Rapids office in Bridgewater Place to advance the development of its NxOpinion medical diagnostic software, which is one of several medical technology initiatives the institute will showcase at its open house here April 13.

Saginaw-based Robertson Research Institute is a research and development company that's working to save lives and improve the quality of life through health information technology. Its initiatives include NxOpinion and InfoDx "medical decision support" software, as well as brain chemistry software programs.

The institute will introduce NxOpinion at its open house and try to stimulate interest among potential licensing partners in the fields of health care, health insurance, pharmaceuticals and electronic medical records systems, said RRI President Sally Oyster.

"At this point we don't really need investment; we're looking at getting to a revenue stage, and that's what the licensing does," she said. "As licensing partners come on board, we will continue to increase our staff to do all the development required to customize the products according to each licensee's requirements."

NxOpinion is designed to aid physicians in the diagnosis of non-chronic illnesses and thereby reduce medical misdiagnosis and medical errors. When fully developed, it will have the most extensive database of medical knowledge available, and it will be both multilingual and multicultural. Its interactive software analyzes information — such as symptoms, test or imaging results and patient history — and provides users with feedback by leading them through a series of questions and offering suggestions.

NxOpinion spun off into the for-profit NxOpinion LLC in January 2005. Its nonprofit, less sophisticated counterpart is InfoDx, which the institute is giving away free to underdeveloped countries where emergency medical facilities and resources are scarce.

"In developing the software, my goal was to provide a truly global medical solution," said RRI founder and pharmacologist Joel Robertson. "The innovative approach to diagnosis, treatment and medical informatics is aimed at physicians in underserved communities.

"I wanted a solution that would save lives worldwide through faster, more accurate diagnosis."

But during the past couple years that NxOpinion has been undergoing development, the target market for the software has expanded significantly beyond just medical students and physicians, Oyster said. The institute now sees "huge possibilities" among several other target markets.

If the software was used in a Web-based system, for example, a consumer could enter his patient and family medical history and his medical complaints. The system might advise him to see a physician right away or might offer him information on how his specific medical problem could be alleviated.

"We can save unnecessary office visits if it's minor, and on the other hand, we can save lives if somebody is not going to the doctor because they don't think it's critical," Oyster said.

She said RRI envisions that physician offices could import that data by the time the patient walks in the door. That would eliminate the time both the nurse and doctor have to spend reviewing all the patient's symptoms. If the patient's insurance company had a system whereby a participant could put in his symptoms, the insurance company might be able to tell him if he needs a specialist right away, which means he could bypass the general practitioner and save both money and time by going directly to the right doctor, Oyster pointed out.

"Given the symptoms entered, the system can actually determine what the 'next best test' is to run that would delineate symptoms according to the most probable diagnosis. Now, rather than everybody spending thousands of dollars basically ruling out diagnoses through CAT scans or MRIs, they're doing a next best test — which might be something as simple as a blood test or metabolite test — that says, 'With X degree of certainty, this is the diagnosis we think it is.' So the physician has a backup for liability reasons, the insurance company has a back up; in the meantime, everybody has saved cost and time and the patient has gotten better care quicker. This is a practical means of keeping costs down while improving patient safety."

In related news, the institute just completed a business plan for the Web-based Robertson Wellness LLC, a for-profit venture it hopes to kick off sometime this year.

"Robertson Wellness has the potential of being an even bigger project than NxOpinion," Oyster said. "It deals with brain chemistry and how brain chemistry affects behavior."

She said the wellness programs can be put into practice on a self-help basis and can be individually customized for various applications, such as anti-aging, anxiety reduction, depression, or weight loss. Like NxOpinion, Robertson Wellness is one of the institute's for-profit organizations.

"At RRI, the nonprofits do all the research and development. The nonprofits retain the right of use for the development and gives it away as it wants, so through the nonprofit programs we can still service people that can't afford health care," Oyster explained. "Our goal, whether it be NxOpinion or Robertson Wellness, is to develop licensed partners, because we do not want to expend our efforts in marketing."

Oyster said Robertson Research Institute recently added five positions to its Grand Rapids office and plans to add another six technology jobs over the next 12 months.    

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