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With local and global disease outbreaks hitting headlines daily, one program developed at RUSH is helping prevent and minimize such health care catastrophes. Created by Dino Rumoro, DO, MPH, associate professor and chairperson of RUSH’s Department of Emergency Medicine, GUARDIAN helps predict outbreaks and hospitalizations throughout Chicago.

During the summer of 1995, hundreds of Chicago residents flooded Rush’s emergency department as a historic heat wave struck the city, ultimately killing 739 people. One question weighed heavily on Dino Rumoro, DO, MPH, associate professor and chairperson of Rush’s Department of Emergency Medicine: Could this have been prevented?

The answer was a hard but complex “yes.”

“At the time, we weren’t putting two and two together,” said Rumoro. “Emergency physicians were working in air-conditioned environments, driving in air-conditioned cars and living in air-conditioned homes. We had to really take a step back and figure it out.”

Finding the common denominator

Rumoro began working alongside a researcher from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, collecting data from 33 area hospitals to see if emergency departments could have predicted the crisis by taking note of heat-related illnesses like heat stroke.

“We saw that hospitals started to see an increase in heat-related illnesses one week before the first person died,” said Rumoro. “We also found that when there were more than two heat-related illnesses for every 100 emergency room patients, it was a predictor of a heat-related crisis and impending mortality.”

Not long after, GUARDIAN was born — a disease surveillance system developed by Rumoro and other Rush physicians and researchers to identify emerging health threats and help contain outbreaks.

Real-time predictions

Short for Geographic Utilization of Artificial Intelligence in Real-Time for Disease Identification and Alert Notification, the suite of software tools detects the spread of infectious agents by immediately analyzing patients’ symptoms as they are processed through the emergency department.

The system then alerts physicians of possible or confirmed cases of illnesses. So far GUARDIAN has helped identify a variety of biological threat agents, West Nile virus, flu-like and gastrointestinal illnesses, Zika and meningitis.

Additionally a new application of the system can estimate whether a patient will need to be hospitalized 15 minutes after they arrive in the emergency department — expediting bed placement and patient flow significantly. 

“We’re trying to make the computer think like a clinician,” said Rumoro, noting for the last five years, they’ve out-predicted the CDC with public flu reporting weeks before an official public health announcement was issued. 

Rush’s commitment to scholarly activity provides a unique opportunity to positively impact the patients we serve as well as the future of our communities, our city and — perhaps — even the world.

Dino Rumoro, DO, MPH, associate professor and chairperson of Rush’s Department of Emergency Medicine

Reaching farther with the Rush factor

Now the product of more than a decade of work, GUARDIAN also continues to illustrate the entrepreneurial spirit Rush fosters alongside its physicians — allowing them to bring ideas to life through innovative technology and research.

“The supportive environment and resources provided by Rush allows physicians and researchers alike the freedom to test, experiment and resolve complex issues,” added Rumoro. “Rush is an academic medical center that strives for excellence and, in turn, ensures that the learning process is an ongoing journey that extends well beyond graduation. This provides a unique opportunity to positively impact the patients we serve as well as the future of our communities, our city and — perhaps — even the world.”

Do you think predictive medicine is more important today than ever before? Tell us why. #RushUMag