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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 February 2006, 11:55 GMT
Experts' baby monitoring project
Picture: NHS Lothian (Single use)
The research could aid premature babies
Scientists have been carrying out computer research aimed at helping doctors to treat premature babies.

The 480,000 project - BabyTalk - uses a computer to generate a summary of a baby's medical history and current health status.

Teams from the University of Aberdeen, the University of Edinburgh, and NHS Lothian have been involved.

If successful, they hope the project could lead to improved medical care throughout the NHS for adults too.

BabyTalk would help doctors and nurses treating premature babies in neonatal intensive care units.

Reports would be produced automatically from the baby's electronic medical notes.

Reassure families

It is hoped BabyTalk could lead to better decisions being made by staff and therefore better care for the babies.

Researchers said it could also help staff write reports, as well as inform and reassure families about their infants.

Professor Jim Hunter, of Aberdeen University's department of computing science who is part of the team involved in the BabyTalk research, said: "Medical professionals face the daily challenge of successfully treating patients in intensive care units.

"They are under immense pressure to decide the best treatment method available and in so doing have to deal with up to hundreds of pages of detailed lab results and medical history of patients.

If BabyTalk is successful, we hope that it will lead to improved medical care throughout the NHS
Professor Jim Hunter
University of Aberdeen

"The doctor or nurse may only have a few minutes to decide what should be done to help their patient and could benefit from having a short summary of the patient's condition.

"BabyTalk will generate such summaries for premature babies in neonatal intensive care units - at any time of the day or night."

Dr Yvonne Freer, of Nursing Studies at the University of Edinburgh, said: "BabyTalk is an extremely exciting project to be involved in.

"Automatically written summaries could be used for purposes other than immediate clinical decision making, for example at the end of a long shift, staff have to write a report of what has happened on their shift to give to those taking over.

Technology potential

"If this could be done automatically, it would save time and avoid the possibility of significant events being forgotten.

"Although this project focuses on premature babies in neonatal intensive care units (NICUs), it is hoped the principles could be applied more widely to adults."

The software being developed in BabyTalk would run on computers beside the cots of babies in NICUs within the hospitals and the computers would be operated using hospitals' networks.

Professor Hunter added: "If BabyTalk is successful, we hope that it will lead to improved medical care throughout the NHS, not just in neonatal intensive care.

"The technology could potentially be used in many other health and safety contexts as well, for example, the University of Aberdeen team is also investigating generating textual summaries for scuba divers to assist with the safety aspects of their dives."

The UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) has provided nearly 500,000 of funding for the research.


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