Algorithm Developers, Informatics Researchers to Collaborate

Symposium to explore best practices through the use of mental health treatment algorithms

Release Date: April 24, 2006

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- At an international symposium to be held here May 5-6, algorithm developers and informatics researchers will explore the diffusion of evidence-based mental health treatment information for use throughout the world.

They will consider the dissemination, adoption and use of the best current mental health treatment practices to medical practitioners at the point of care -- wherever that may be -- using the convenient vehicle of medical algorithms.

The invitational symposium, "Diffusion, Adoption and Maintenance of Psychopharmacology Algorithms," is sponsored by the University at Buffalo School of Informatics and the International Psychopharmacology Algorithm Project (IPAP). It will be held at the University Inn and Conference Center, 2402 N. Forest Road, Amherst.

In addition to a keynote address by Ted Shortliffe, M.D., Ph.D., the father of medical informatics, speakers will include distinguished medical and informatics researchers from UB, Stanford University, Columbia University, University of Peking, University of Toronto and other major research institutions.

Ken Jobson, M.D., founder and chairman of the board of IPAP, indicates that differences in the quality of mental health care from one place to another (even within countries or regions) is a problem recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO), the Institute of Medicine, the AMA and many other entities.

Biologically based mental illnesses like schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder and bi-polar disorder are difficult to treat successfully if the health-care provider is unaware of current best practices, a particular difficulty for those in isolated regions of the world. In addition, widespread regional warfare, natural disasters and geographical dislocation can produce illnesses that can be both acute and chronic, such as post-traumatic stress disorder and clinical depression.

W. David Penniman, Ph.D., dean of the UB School of Informatics, points out that one of the most effective ways for even the most inexperienced health-care practitioner to determine which drug or other therapy is likely to reduce symptoms of mental illness is through the use of medical algorithms.

Medical algorithms are decision-making trees based on research outcomes that lead a practitioner step-by-step through evidence-based treatment plans. To see a mental health treatment algorithm, go to

Shortliffe, one of the most influential biomedical scientists in the field, was the first to devise medical algorithms with the assistance of computer technology. After a distinguished career at Stanford University, he is now the Rolf H. Scholdager Professor and chair of the Department of Biomedical Informatics, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

"Today, a number of organizations develop practice guidelines and treatment algorithms, including those for the treatment of mental illness. Their diffusion and use, however, is still a challenge," Penniman says, "which can lead to very uneven levels of quality of care throughout the world."

Hence the need for this symposium, where experts in innovation, diffusion, informatics, persuasion technology, knowledge translation, continuing medical education, decision-making and algorithm development can explore ways in which the problem of information diffusion and use can be addressed most effectively.

"The final product of this convocation will be a document reflecting the participants' findings and insights into the issue of achieving algorithm usage and maintenance," Jobson says.

"The document will be created by a team of participants assigned this duty prior to the meeting," he adds. "This product will be distributed internationally. Equally important is the prospect of new alliances and cooperation among those interested in the advancement of evidence-based medicine."

Among the presenters from UB will be Arun Vishwanath, Ph.D., MBA, assistant professor, School of Informatics, who will address the process of information diffusion as it relates to treatment evaluation mechanisms, and Stephen L. Dubovsky, M.D., professor and chair in the Department of Psychiatry, UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, who will be on one of the select panels.

Bruce Holm, Ph.D., professor of medicine and senior vice provost at UB where he serves as executive director of the New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences, will host a post-symposium brunch and tour of the Center of Excellence on May 7.  

Participants also will include representatives of the American Psychiatric Association, World Health Organization, BlueCross BlueShield, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Agency for Healthcare Quality and Research (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Association of American Medical Schools, Unity Health, Duke University Department of Psychiatry (informatics), Columbia University (DBMI, medical decision making), Texas Medicaid Algorithm Project, Harvard

Psychopharmacology Algorithm Project, Canadian Psychiatric Association, members of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society and developers of decision-support software for psychiatry.

Medical informatics is the field of study concerned with a broad range of issues in the management and use of biomedical information, including medical computing and the study of the nature of medical information itself, in this case, psychiatric information.

It deals with the resources, devices and methods required to optimize the acquisition, storage, retrieval and use of information in health and biomedicine. Health informatics tools include not only computers but also clinical guidelines, formal medical terminologies, and information and communication systems.

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