Computers beat doctors at diagnosing child illnesses

A computer has proved more accurate in diagnosing severe fever in children than doctors using their clinical judgement, researchers have found.

Specialists in Australia who developed the computerised diagnostic model say it may improve early treatment in children with conditions such as pneumonia and meningitis who need an urgent administration of antibiotics.

One of the toughest tasks in medicine is distinguishing between children with ordinary viral illnesses, from which they normally recover without treatment, and those with bacterial infections which require an urgent administration of antibiotics. Family doctors have sleepless nights worrying about whether they have made the right call.

Now researchers at the Westmead Children's Hospital in Sydney, Australia, have developed a 28-item checklist which, when used with a statistical modelling technique, successfully distinguishes between the two.

They began by recording 40 clinical features in 15,000 cases of children presenting with fever at the emergency department of the hospital. The children were then followed for two weeks to discover what happened to them.

The researchers found 7.2 per cent were diagnosed with severe illnesses including urinary-tract infections and pneumonia. Six children had meningitis. The authors say that, when children are diagnosed by doctors, more than a fifth of those with severe bacterial illnesses are not prescribed antibiotics at their initial consultation and a fifth of those without a bacterial infection are overtreated with antibiotics.

When the computer model was used, the accuracy of diagnosis was equal to or better than that of the doctors. The findings are published in the British Medical Journal.

The strongest predictors of serious bacterial infection were a very unwell appearance, high temperature, chronic disease, and prolonged capillary refill time [the length of time an area of skin takes to turn pink after being pressed with a finger till it is white].

For children with pneumonia, the strongest predictors were coughing, difficulty breathing, abnormal chest sounds, rapid breathing, chest crackles and rapid heart beat.

For urinary tract infection, urinary symptoms such as pain on urinating were by far the strongest indicator, whereas for bacteraemia [the presence of bacteria in the blood which can lead to septicaemia], rapid heart beat and crying were also strong indicators.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

    £15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

    Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

    £15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

    Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

    £20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

    Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

    £18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

    Day In a Page

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
    Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

    The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

    Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
    Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

    A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
    How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

    How books can defeat Isis

    Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
    The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

    The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

    The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
    Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

    Young carers to make dance debut

    What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
    Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

    Design Council's 70th anniversary

    Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
    Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

    Dame Harriet Walter interview

    The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

    Bill Granger's winter salads

    Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
    England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

    George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

    No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
    Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links