NIH researchers started with 9,000 medical questions from Stanford University and the University of Minnesota but this was too small a sample size. That's when AskTheDoctor.com stepped in to help.
Over the past few years, AskTheDoctor.com has built a database of close to 200,000 unanswered medical questions. These questions have been supplied directly from users, and are consequently phrased in conversational language and not pre-scripted. It's an ideal test for the ability of computers to communicate in the real world.
"We are using artificial intelligence techniques to explore the potential of computers to understand and respond to questions asked by consumers about their health", stated Dr. Milton Corn, National Institute of Health Deputy Director. "The material provided by AskTheDoctor.com is particularly valuable to us in our computational research because the patient questions are stated in the exact language as typed by users."
Dr. Corn led NIH's first foray into the World Wide Web through the launch of Medline and the popular abstract database PubMed, used today by physicians worldwide. He approached AskTheDoctor.com because the health care questions are from real users and the answers are from physicians.
Beyond questions, the next step will be answers. Over 10,000 of the 200,000 questions on AskTheDoctor.com have been carefully answered by a team of physicians. These answers are the backbone of knowledge that millions of visitors turn to for help each year, and could also be the starting point for medical supercomputers.
"Imagine the amount of time physicians could save if they could ask a computer assistant a question and receive an instant and accurate response", stated Dr. Suneel Sharman, AskTheDoctor.com co-founder. "Currently, physicians spend a great deal of time searching in medical books and on-line while seeing a patient, to help them with their diagnosis. An intelligent computer that understands the language of patients and physicians would be a valuable asset for any doctor.