Home Medicine articles Medical algorithm
A medical algorithm is any computation, formula,
survey, or look-up table, useful in healthcare. Medical algorithms
include decision-tree approaches to healthcare treatment (i.e.,
if symptoms A, B, and C are evident, then use treatment X) and
also less clear-cut tools aimed at reducing or defining uncertainty.
An example would be an algorithm used to determine what next
investigation or management to apply to a possible DVT.
The intended purpose of medical algorithms
is to improve and standardize decisions made in the delivery
of medical care. Medical algorithms assist in standardizing
selection and application of treatment regimens, with algorithm
automation intended to reduce potential introduction of errors.
Many medical algorithms are paper questionanaires
or checklists where only one form is necessary, which often
leads to over-simplification, or a cumbersome process with many
decision-tree points where errors, sometimes life-threatening,
can be introduced. With the increasing use of electronic notes
and with the intelligent use of coding and classification systems
algorithms may be applied to hooks in the notes. There is a
temptation to introduce algorithms which do slowly something
that doctors do well and quickly, and which needs to be balanced
against various other considerations.
A wealth of medical information exists in the
form of published medical algorithms. These algorithms range
from simple calculations to complex outcome predictions. Most
clinicians use only a small subset routinely. Computerized algorithms
can provide timely clinical decision support, improve adherence
to evidence-based guidelines, and be a resource for education
In common with most science and medicine, algorithms
whose contents are not wholly available for scrutiny and open
to improvement should be regarded with suspicion.
A grammar - the Arden Syntax - exists for describing
algorithms in terms of Medical Logic Modules. An approach such
as this should allow exchange of MLMs between doctors and establishments,
and enrichment of the ommon stock of tools.
Medical algorithms based on best practice can
assist everyone involved in delivery of standardized treatment
via a wide range of clinical care providers. Many are presented
as protocols and it is a key task in training to ensure people
step outside the protocol when necessary. In our present state
of knowledge generating hints and producing guidelines may be
less satisfying to the authors, but more appropriate.
Computations obtained from medical algorithms
should be compared with, and tempered by, clinical knowledge
and physician judgment.