Monday, May 31, 2010
A Google Summer
I often wondered how software or more specifically the skills I learn as a Computer Science student could be used in a way that would benefit a lot more people than harvesting virtual crops on a social networking site. Then thanks to a friend, I just came across an entire domain that had never really crossed my mind before; it was the field of health care IT or medical informatics or whatever else you may call it, basically using software to provide better treatment to patients, providing diagnostics and making health care accessible to regions which just didn't have the human or economic resources to do so.
I initially explored certain open source tools in the field of medical visualization. For anyone intending to work in that field, I think Slicer is an amazing tool to explore. After exploring the the field interfacing medical devices with computers and the associated media generation from them I learned a couple of things like DICOM which is the medical imaging communication standard, medical ontologies and well Doctors & Clinicians especially Radiologists :)
I had been planning on applying for Google Summer of Code this year and I decided to apply for OpenMRS since they worked in this field of interest to me and had done amazing work in supporting data in holistic medical solutions across the world. One of the open projects for the Summer included working on a Media viewer module for openMRS which would enable health care workers to upload media like X-rays, videos of lesions, photos of scars, audio of heartbeats captured through a stethoscope and a whole lot of other things along with the patient diagnostics which would help doctors visually analyze the case of the patient better.
This particular project was developed by Sana, which is a student organization based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (NextLab, Center for Transpotation and Logistics, Engineering Systems Division) that offers an end-to-end system that seamlessly connects health workers to medical professionals. My mentor Katherine Kuan along with RJ Ryan had originally developed the media viewer documented on the blog and I have to add enhancements to the viewer to functionally improve some of the existing features while adding new components to it. Sana basically works by installing a mobile application (Currently on Android phones) which is given to health care workers in rural areas who record encounters with patients as observations through a structured diagnosis process, uploading the data through a dispatch server to OpenMRS backed data management service in most cases. The doctors can then login from any part of the world, analyze the case and treat the patient accordingly thereby enabling access to quality health care to the remotest of places with basic mobile connectivity (Sana's packetization algorithms work really well, even transmitting images and audio as a standard SMS in areas with poor data packet connectivity).
I have just started my work understanding the code base, learning new technology, analyzing use cases and meeting some amazing people all along. Hopefully will get some interesting update for you soon!