The National Library of Medicine Explores Artificial Intelligence Using Two-Hundred Thousand Real Patient Questions from

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The National Institutes of Health and The National Library of Medicine are studying the role computers can play in interpreting and dispensing medical advice using artificial intelligence. is playing a key role by providing 200,000 questions from real people and answers from physicians to see if computers can deliver advice accurately.

Imagine the amount of time physicians could save if they could ask a computer assistant a question and receive an instant and accurate response.

Researchers at The National Library of Medicine have teamed up with in a significant step towards developing intelligent computerized medical assistants for doctors. They are using thousands of real-language, unedited medical questions at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland to see if computers can interpret the tone and meaning of questions phrased by online patients.

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 stepped in to help.

Over the past few years, 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,” said Dr. Milton Corn, National Institute of Health Deputy Director. “The material provided by 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 because the healthcare 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 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 super computers.

“Imagine the amount of time physicians could save if they could ask a computer assistant a question and receive an instant and accurate response,” says Dr. Suneel Sharman, co-founder. “Currently, physicians spend a great deal of time searching in medical books and online 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.

About is an online source of free medical advice for anyone, anywhere, in the world. Users submit their personalized medical questions, free of cost, via a simple-to-use online form. When a question is answered, users are notified by email, and their response is posted on the website. No identifying personal data is shared, thus questions and answers remain anonymous. Depending on the nature of the question, answers may be provided by general practitioners or a specialist. For more information visit

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Colin Trethewey
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