Doctors have long delegated to computers such mundane tasks as billing patients and keeping track of the medication and care they receive. Now the computer is about to move into the examining room. After 15 years of development, Dr. Jack Myers, 72, an internist, and Computer Engineer and Neurology Professor Harry Pople, 51, both at the University of Pittsburgh, announced the debut of Caduceus, a computer program that has the ability to diagnose some 600 diseases. Named for the physician's snake-entwined staff, it will be field-tested in four hospitals affiliated with the university, beginning late in 1986.
The program is an expert system that mimics the thought process of a human being and derives its store of knowledge from Myers' 45 years in internal medicine. To tap its expertise, a physician enters information about a patient (age, sex, symptoms, lab data) and waits briefly while the computer sifts through the 4,000-odd symptoms and notes in its data base and comes up with a list of possible illnesses. The doctor can then direct the machine toward one condition in particular, or switch the computer to an interrogative mode, in which it will ask for additional pertinent facts. Caduceus has already passed some difficult tests. Says Myers: "It regularly diagnoses the tricky cases published as clinical puzzles in The New England Journal of Medicine."