Skip to Content
Uncategorized

Fighting Infections with Data

October 1, 2004

Every year, two million Americans contract infections in hospitals, and about 90,000 of them die as a result. Despite the severity of this quiet epidemic, physicians have no systematic way to quickly and effectively identify spreading hospital infections. Now a small but growing number of U.S. hospitals are adopting data-mining technologies widely used in other industries to alert doctors to problems they might otherwise miss.

One company helping hospitals connect the dots is MedMined of Birmingham, AL, which has sold its data analysis services to more than 80 hospitals since physician and computer scientist Stephen Brossette founded it in 2000. Hospitals transmit encrypted data from patient records and lab tests to MedMined, which then uses its data-mining algorithms to tease out unusual patterns and correlations. At first, only the most computerized and technologically savvy hospitals were interested, but “now we’re seeing more of a mainstream push,” says Brossette, the company’s president and chief technology officer. One incentive: increased public scrutiny of hospital-acquired infections. Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Missouri have passed laws requiring hospitals to publicly reveal their infection rates, and similar bills are pending in Florida and California.

MedMined and competitors such as Cereplex and Theradoc (see “Computerized Germ Catchers,” below) also track emergency-room and outpatient-clinic data to look for community outbreaks and bioterrorism events. Automating disease surveillance “is going to be hugely beneficial for patient care,” says Jerome Tokars of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. “Instead of collecting and counting data, personnel can start doing more prevention of hospital-acquired infections.”

One concern about the technology, says Robert Weinstein, chair of infectious disease at the John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County in Chicago, is that it may send doctors chasing after too many false positives – seeming clusters of infections that turn out to be random statistical anomalies. Even so, most infection control specialists agree that they need help from computers in crunching the mountains of patient data that may conceal evidence of an impending outbreak.

COMPUTERIZED GERM CATCHERS

COMPANY

TECHNOLOGY/MILESTONES

Cereplex
(Gaithersbburg, MD)

Looks for unusual infection patterns and identifies patients needing changes in therapy; has data analysis contracts with 11 U.S. hospitals

Theradoc
(Salt Lake City, UT)

Software on hospital servers mines patient data for trends in infections and suggests courses of action for particular patients; sold to 12 U.S. hospitals

Vecna Technologies
(College Park, MD)

Data-mining software for infection control; in tests at three Boston hospitals

Deep Dive

Uncategorized

Five poems about the mind

DREAM VENDING MACHINE I feed it coins and watch the spring coil back,the clunk of a vacuum-packed, foil-wrappeddream dropping into the tray. It dispenses all kinds of dreams—bad dreams, good dreams,short nightmares to stave off worse ones, recurring dreams with a teacake marshmallow center.Hardboiled caramel dreams to tuck in your cheek,a bag of orange dreams…

Work reinvented: Tech will drive the office evolution

As organizations navigate a new world of hybrid work, tech innovation will be crucial for employee connection and collaboration.

lucid dreaming concept
lucid dreaming concept

I taught myself to lucid dream. You can too.

We still don’t know much about the experience of being aware that you’re dreaming—but a few researchers think it could help us find out more about how the brain works.

panpsychism concept
panpsychism concept

Is everything in the world a little bit conscious?

The idea that consciousness is widespread is attractive to many for intellectual and, perhaps, also emotional
reasons. But can it be tested? Surprisingly, perhaps it can.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.