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Big Data Research Project Looks for Answers to Questions Nobody Knows to Ask

A computer science researcher at an Illinois institution is working on algorithms to help computers apply artificial intelligence to figure out what important answers are buried in big data — even though the users may not know what questions to ask. Shahram Rahimi, a professor at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, is working on a three-year grant specifically to develop software that could improve care and satisfaction rates among hospital patients. But the findings could have application in any number of segments that work with massive amounts of data.

The work is being funded by Envision Healthcare , a provider of physician-led, outsourced medical services in the United States with 34,000 employees.

Like many industries, healthcare is still sorting out how to use data analysis to improve services.

"The health care sector have not been using technology for things like decision support or providing guidelines on how to do a better job handling patients, or how they can improve satisfaction, improve quality of care and minimize mistakes and adjust practices for better performance," said Rahimi in a press release. "We want to make it easier to look at this entire picture, while looking for ways to improve things from diagnosis to treatment."

The approach Rahimi and his team of graduate students are trying would apply AI-powered analysis to areas such as emergency room practices, patient satisfaction and outcomes and decision-making. The software would use mapping and other visualizations to point human analysts in the right direction.

"It could tell you, for instance, that a certain doctor working at night with children who have abdominal pain is not really the best situation," Rahimi said. "It can figure out what the data actually says, not what you ask it to figure out."

Rahimi eventually hopes to open a center at his university focused on development of software for big data analysis.  Soon, he'll be moving the work onto a new high-performance computing center that is coming online at Southern Illinois soon.

"Without that new capability, I wouldn't have even have tried to get a grant for this kind of work," Rahimi said. "It's a very important development for research here at SIU."


About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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