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Monday, 17 June, 2002, 11:03 GMT 12:03 UK
Website to reduce medical errors
Isabel Maude
Isabel Maude nearly died
The parents of a English girl who nearly died after doctors failed to diagnose the flesh eating bug have helped to develop technology to prevent similar errors.

Doctors initially said that three-year-old Isabel Maude had chickenpox, and that there was no need to worry.

If ISABEL saves just one child's life, it has all been worthwhile

Charlotte Maude
In fact, Isabel did have chickenpox - but she had also been infected with the necrotising fasciitis bug.

She suffered multiple organ failure including cardiac arrest and was transported under police escort from her local hospital to the Paediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) at St Mary's Hospital, Paddington.

There she spent four weeks on a life support machine followed by a further month in a ward.

Quick information

Isabel's parents Jason and Charlotte Maude could have sued the NHS. Instead, they set about putting things right.

They raised money and got professional help to develop an internet system that would help avoid the same mistakes being made again.

The system, called ISABEL, is free to all doctors. It uses pattern recognition software to search for information in paediatric textbooks.

Doctors simply tap in symptoms and get back a list of possible problems, and details of the best treatment.

The system also offers links to the British National Formulary and an annotated picture library.

Charlotte Maude said: "We sat by Isabel's bedside not knowing if she would live or die, and kept asking ourselves the question `how could this have happened?'

"We understand that doctors are not infallible - to blame them for what happened would achieve nothing.

"We hope that in time, clinicians will come to see ISABEL as a practical supplement to their own knowledge, which could save many lives.

"If ISABEL saves just one child's life, it has all been worthwhile."

Junior staff

Dr Joseph Britto
Dr Joseph Britto hopes the system will reduce mistakes
Dr Joseph Britto, a consultant in paediatric intensive care at St Mary's Hospital, said that many ill children were seen by junior doctors, and not experienced consultants.

"We need systems like Isabel that will bring some of the knowledge down to the junior doctor at the bed side, and hopefully that will prevent diagnostic error.

"If this system had been in place at the hospital where Isabel presented it would have made a difference.

"It would have highlighted to the junior doctor that what he was dealing with was not just straightforward chickenpox, but chickenpox that had been complicated by a bacterial infection."

A study in the British Medical Journal published last year suggested that as many as one in 10 patients admitted to hospitals experienced medical error.

It is estimated that health care professionals carry around 2 million pieces of clinical information in their heads.


The developers are hoping to obtain funding from the Department of Health to carry out research into the impact of the technology.

Trials have shown the system has a 90% accuracy rate and it has the support of the General Medical Council, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, the British Association of Accident and Emergency Medicine and the Department of Health.

Health Minister Lord Hunt said: "ISABEL has the potential to be a very useful tool for all clinicians in the delivery of patient care.

"I have asked officials at the Department of Health to examine its potential effectiveness in the wider clinical context and to explore options for promoting its wider use in the NHS."

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See also:

07 Sep 99 | Health
10 Apr 01 | Science/Nature
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