This is fourth part of the five part series on ICT applications.  Here, we will study expert systems and their uses in various fields.  Use of ICT in medicine by doctors and hospitals.  Use of 3-D printers for making  surgical and diagnostic aids, prosthetics, tissue engineering and designing of medical tools and equipment.

Where are expert systems used? or in which fields expert systems have been developed?

Expert systems have been developed to mimic the expertise and knowledge of an expert in a particular field.

Examples of expert systems include:

  1. Diagnosing a person's illness.
  2. Prospecting for oil and minerals.
  3. Identification of plants, animals and chemical compounds.
  4. Diagnostics e.g., finding faults in a car engine, finding faults on a circuit board.
  5. Tax and financial calculations.
  6. Road scheduling for delivery vehicles.
  7. Strategy games e.g., chess.

Explain how an expert system is set up?

The following are the steps that needs to be followed for setting up an expert system:

  1. Experts in the field are first interviewed.
  2. Data is then collected from these experts.
  3. A knowledge base is first designed and then created. The knowledge from the experts is used to populate the knowledge base.
  4. The rules base is then designed and created and an inference engine is also designed and created.
  5. An explanation system is also developed.
  6. The input screen and output format is also designed and created. This is known as the user interface.
  7. The expert system is tested against known conditions/scenarios and is also checked to see if it meets the original specification.
  8. Experts are interviewed about how effective it is before the expert system goes out on general release.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of expert systems?

The following are the advantages and disadvantages of expert systems:

Advantages

  1. They are not affected by emotional reasoning and provide consistent answers.
  2. Using expert system reduces the time to solve a problem.
  3. There is a very high potential of saving money as there is less need for specialists, an example in point, when carrying out oil exploration.
  4. The probability of the given solution being accurate or correct are indicated by these systems.
  5. Allows areas of the world access to expertise which they possibly would not be able to afford normally.
  6. When determining the logic, they never 'forget' to answer a question.

Disadvantages

  1. Any errors in the knowledge base could lead to incorrect decisions being made.
  2. They are expensive to set up in the first place.
  3. To ensure the system is used correctly by the operators, they need to be given proper training.
  4. Though lack of emotional reasoning is an advantage, it could be disadvantageous in areas such as medical diagnosis.
  5. They tend to lack common sense in some of the decision-making processes.

Explain how an expert system can be used in oil prospecting?

The process of using an expert system for oil prospecting is as follows:

  1. A multiple-choice questions or Yes/No responses interactive user screen is shown.
  2. Questions about geological profiles are asked by the system.
  3. The operator types in the responses to the questions or geological profiles.
  4. Based on the previous responses entered by the operator, the system asks more questions.
  5. From the facts stored in the knowledge base the inference engine compares answers to questions using the rules base.
  6. As an output, the system suggests the probability of finding oil.
  7. It also indicates the probable depth of deposits, usually as a percentage probability.
  8. The explanation system will also explain how the expert system arrived at its conclusions.
  9. It will then make predictions about geological deposits in the soil/rocks.
  10. Finally it will produce contour maps showing concentration of minerals, rocks, oil, etc.


Oil rig

How can computers help doctors and hospital to keep patient and pharmacy records ?

Doctors and hospitals need to keep accurate records of all their patients to ensure correct diagnosis and treatment. An up-to-date medical history is part of the diagnosis process. Databases are kept by doctors and hospitals so that data can be shared between medical practitioners and pharmacies. E.g., to ensure no drugs are prescribed which interact with each other in an unsafe manner.

Databases allow for a quick and easy search of patient records. This could be very important in an emergency, for example, when accessing the patient's medical history could mean the difference between life and death. It also means that medication can be prescribed without issuing paper prescriptions, an email could be sent to the pharmacy.

What sort of data is stored in a patient database by doctors and patients?

The data that would be required on a patient database are as follows:

  1. Unique identification number
  2. Name and address of the patient
  3. Date of birth
  4. Gender
  5. Blood group
  6. Medical history, e.g. recent medicines or treatments
  7. Any known allergies
  8. Any current treatment
  9. Any current diagnosis
  10. Doctor
  11. Important additional information such as X-rays, CT scans, etc.

Explain how computers can be used to monitor patients?

The system relies on sensors attached to patients and to a computer system that interprets the sensor data and converts it into a format useful to doctors and nurses.

It is possible to carry out 24-hour monitoring of the patient, by connecting him/her to a computer system. The computer can monitor:

  1. heart rate
  2. respiration
  3. blood pressure
  4. blood sugar levels
  5. brain activity
  6. oxygen levels in the blood
  7. blood/body temperature

The results are shown on a monitor in the form of a digital read-out and/or graphical read-out.

While digital read-outs give the doctor or nurse an immediate value, graphical representations are used to show trends over a period of time. However, both methods supply different information. There is often sound output as well in the form of beeps to indicate that the machine is working. It also indicates, for example, the heart rate and gives a warning if the patient's condition suddenly deteriorates.

All of these outputs give the doctors and nurses useful information.

What are the advantages of using sensors and computers for patient monitoring?

Using sensors and computers has many advantages over taking readings manually:

  1. Response time of computers is faster to any change in a patient's condition.
  2. Measurements would be automatically taken while doctors and nurses carry out other tasks.
  3. Computer don't forget to take readings.
  4. Computers can give 24 hours cover every day and don't require any breaks or get tired.
  5. Computers can monitor several patients at the same time.
  6. They reduce the risk of a nurse being subjected to contagious diseases.
  7. The readings would be more accurate.
  8. Readings can be taken more frequently if done by a computer and sensors.
  9. Graphs can automatically be generated by computers for analysis of results.
  10. As fewer nurses would be needed, there would be reduced wage bill resulting in big cost savings.

Explain how an expert system can be used to diagnose patients?

Expert systems are also used to diagnose illnesses in patients.

Input Screen

  1. A multiple-choice questions or Yes/No responses interactive user screen is shown.
  2. The system asks a series of questions about the patient's illness.
  3. The user types in the responses to the questions.
  4. Based on the previous responses entered by the user, the system asks a series of questions.

Expert system

  1. From the data stored in the knowledge base, the inference engine compares the symptoms entered using the rules base.
  2. Once a match is found, the system suggests the probability of patient's illness being identified accurately.
  3. It also suggests possible solutions and remedies to cure the patient or recommendations on what to do next.
  4. The explanation system will also explain how the expert system arrived at its conclusions so that the user can determine the validity of the diagnosis or suggested treatment.

Output screen

  1. The diagnosis can be in the form of text or it may show images of the human anatomy to indicate where the problem may be.
  2. The user can request further information from the expert system to narrow down even further the possible illness and its treatment.

Explain the use of 3-D printers in surgical and diagnostic aids?

With 3-D printers, it is now possible to print out anatomical parts. These are used as an aid towards diagnosis and surgical procedures. The patient is scanned using:

  • CT or computed tomography, which involves producing images of the internal parts of the body in a series of thin slices less than 0.1 mm thick

OR

  • MRI or magnetic resonance imaging, which uses strong magnetic fields and radio waves to produce a series of images of the internal organs in the body.

A 3-D printer can then reproduce a solid object showing the exact internal organs of the patient. The doctor or surgeon can then show the patient exactly what is wrong and then show them what procedures are required. They also help the surgeons in planning surgical procedures since they can see exactly what is required well in advance of the operation.

3-D printing systems enable blood vessels, major arteries, tumours and so on to be part of the diagnostic, pre-surgical aids. This also allows for patient engagement which would be missing from the more traditional consultation methods.

Some 3-D printers produce hard nylon objects which are used in certain pre-surgical planning. If a patient has suffered a bone break, for example, surgeons can physically test and position screws and plates in the '3-D bone nylon image' prior to the surgery taking place. This reduces the chance of any errors when the actual procedure is carried out.

How can 3-D printers help in prosthetics?

3-D printers are now being used to print out prosthetics i.e., false arms, hands and legs. Whilst state-of-the-art myoelectric prosthetics cost tens of thousands of dollars, the price for 3-D printing a prosthetic arm or hand can be as little as $100.

Lot of research still needs to be done in this field. However, the results to date are very encouraging with many more people from poorer countries now having a chance to replace missing limbs at a fraction of the cost compared to existing methods.

How can 3-D printers help in tissue engineering?

Recent advances have allowed the 3-D printing of bio-compatible materials, cells and supporting structures. This has improved the viability of the function of cells within a 3-D printed object. 3-D bio-printing is a very complex process and requires the input from biologists, medical engineers, physicists and other engineers. It has already been used successfully to produce multi-layered skin tissue, bone tissue, heart/artery grafts and tracheal splints.

The procedure involves making biological materials by diffusing cells into a bio-compatible scaffold. The bio-printed tissue is then put into an incubator and the cell structure held within the scaffold grows to form actual cellular tissue. There is still great deal of work to do, but the goal of growing replacement organs using cells from the patient itself, is getting ever closer thanks to 3-D printing technology.

Explain how 3-D printers help in the design of medical tools and equipment?

As part of the product development cycle for medical tools, 3-D printers are now being used. This allows new medical equipment/tools to be made ready for the market much faster.

Traditional methods of producing new equipment/tools are very time consuming and expensive. With 3-D printers, injection-moulding tools can be created which allow several prototypes to be made within a short period of time. Traditional methods involved making of aluminium moulds which were a slow and expensive process. Development time is now reduced by up to 90% and development cost by up to 70%. This is important in the field of medicine where it is essential that development time and costs are reduced to a minimum.

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