In July 1999, Jason and Charlotte Maude started Isabel Healthcare after their then 3 year old daughter Isabel was nearly fatally misdiagnosed during a hospital stay. They involved clinical experts to lead the research and development of a pediatric diagnostic decision support system, and in June 2002 Isabel diagnostic tool was launched. The tool that helped clinicians generate differential diagnoses and then narrow down to the most likely, based on provided clinical information like signs, symptoms, labs and history. It started with pediatric-only diseases, but expanded to adult version in January 2005.

Isabel’s solution is based on sophisticated pattern-recognition technology from Autonomy, a huge pure software company based in UK. The powerful Autonomy engine is unleashed on a database built from medical textbooks and journal content, and claimed to have >100,000 documents covering >10,000 diseases. Think of it as a web crawler, that indexes authoritative medical text instead. The software’s strength lies in identification of the patterns that naturally occur in text, based on the usage and frequency of words or terms that correspond to specific medical concepts. Each diagnosis is assigned clinical weighting scores derived from expert opinions reflecting prevalence effects based on factors like age, gender, geography etc. The user interface incorporates Natural Language Processing to make the interaction more intuitive and easy for the clinician.

I’ve known about Isabel since 2007, and used it for a few months with very positive results. Was specially impressed with the software’s ability to handle free text, and the company’s openness to a peer-reviewed validation process in an effort to convince the medical community. It seems they have done a serious corporate make-over in 2010: renewed website, cleared pricing and changed management (Interesting fact- ex-CEO Joseph Britto now works for Autonomy).

Autonomy announced a clear healthcare-focused initiative this month, called Meaning-Based Healthcare platform (perhaps trying to capitalize the current buzz around Healthcare IT Meaningful Use regulation). Strangely, there is no clear cut mention of Isabel on the AutonomyHealth website. Regardless, with the vast amount of unstructured data being generated in healthcare, technologies like Autonomy have a bright future.