Can medical decision support software help vanquish the Taliban?

Michael Segal, MD, PhD, CEO of decision support software company SimulConsult, suggests that computerized decision support tools should be used to support the troops in Afghanistan. He pointed out today’s front-page New York Times article (On Taliban Turf, Long Lines of Ailing Children)

Each patrol was a foray into villages regarded as Taliban sanctuaries. Each began with tension and the possibility of violence. But the Taliban did not confront the heavily armed paratroopers, and within minutes the mood of the patrols shifted.Once the villagers realized that the platoons were accompanied by medics, they pushed forward sick children and pleaded for help.A catalog of pediatric suffering quickly formed into queues: children with grotesque burns and skin infections, distended scrapes and scorpion and spider bites, bleeding ears, dimmed eyes or heavy, rolling coughs. Some were bandaged in dirty rags. Others were in wheelbarrows because they lacked the strength to walk.Almost invariably, a similar scene unfolded.

Once the meetings ended, the people brought forward sick children. The American medics, who conducted examinations in front of mosques, were the only modern health care many of the villagers had seen in years.

Sometimes the medics were able to help, quickly cleaning wounds and dispensing simple medicines. Much of what they saw was beyond their reach.

During his recent patrols, the medic for Second Platoon, B Company, Pfc. Corey R. Ball, was asked to treat not only infected cuts and persistent colds, but also retardation, blindness, autism, deafness and epilepsy. “We are medics,” he said. “They want us to be miracle workers.”

Captain DeMure said the health-care situation in the district allowed the government to try to draw a contrast between its actions and those of the Taliban. The government is trying to provide services, the message goes, while the Taliban try to take services away.

According to Dr. Segal:

Since there is some mismatch between the adult medicine training of medics and the predominately pediatric concerns of the population, the medics should be equipped to pull out computers and tap into knowledge put together by their colleagues back in the US. They wouldn’t pull off a miracle in each case, but the process would be as impressive to the populace as Star Trek medicine was to us in the 1970s. For the retardation, autism and epilepsy cases the medics could tap into our free neurological syndromes diagnostic software; we’ve pulled off some miracles with the software back in the US; the medics deserve their chance at a few miracles as well.

This is a good way to project soft power in a way that is very impressive technologically.

December 12, 2007

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