Solutions Health Advisor
Joesph E. Pizzorno, Jr.,N.D., is one of the world's leading authorities on science-based natural medicine. A naturopathic physician, educator, researcher and expert spokesperson, Dr. Pizzorno is founding president of Bastyr University. In 2001, Dr. Pizzorno founded SaluGenecists, Inc. to develop innovative, science-based, artificial intelligence-aided advice systems to provide smart, personalized health promotion and integrated care guidance for the public and practitioners.
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In October, 2010, Smart Publicatons founder John Morgenthaler sat down with Dr. Pizzorno to discuss Solutions Health Advisor, the artificial intelligence tool created by Dr. Pizzorno and featured on the Smart Publications website.
John: So, let’s go ahead and start. You’ve developed a medical software tool you call an expert system or an artificial intelligence tool, and we’ve named our version of it Solutions. You’ve been kind enough to allow us to feature this tool on our Smart Publications website. Can you describe, Joe, what personal benefits someone might get from using this Solutions system? In other words, before we get into any technicalities, let’s just discuss what’s in it for the user.
Dr. Pizzorno: I believe that artificial intelligence tools, such as ours, will transform medicine—both natural and conventional. The biggest challenge for both natural and conventional medicine is that we are each utterly unique. This uniqueness makes it hard to determine what each person needs, such as nutrients, and what we need to avoid, such as toxins or drugs to which we will react. I can say, well, everybody needs some vitamin C, and that is most likely true:, most people need supplemental vitamin C. But, they don’t know how much they need of the vitamin C, and they don’t know if that’s actually what’s most important for them.
When you start trying to answer this question in a rigorous manner, it starts becoming very complex. Because, like I say, we’re all very very unique. As an example, there are about 5,000 physiological functions in the body. Thousands of chemicals floating around in the body, thousands of enzymes that are needed for interactions among all these compounds in the body to work, etc..
Our genes direct how we make these enzymes, and there are about two million variations in the way that people make their genes, which make the enzymes in our body. So you are looking at around 5,000 functions, and about 2,000,000 genes that vary how we make each of our enzymes. Then there are over 200 chemicals in the environment that we know are essential for our health, like vitamins and minerals, food constituents like protein, fatty acids and fiber, and phytonutrients like carotenoids and flavonoids, all of which are necessary for health.
Unfortunately, there are also numerous toxins in our environment. There are about 70 present at levels sufficient to actually damage our physiology. So, we try to figure out what a person needs to be healthier, or if they’re already sick, what they need to restore their normal physiological function. It starts to become very very difficult if you’re trying to do more than simply give a person a drug that will shut down symptoms but will not treat the underlying causes of the dysfunction.
John: What was the last thing you said about a drug?
Dr. Pizzorno: In our current medical system, doctors are trained to give a person a drug, which is far from optimal since almost all drugs just turn off their symptoms without dealing with the causes of why people are sick. (Of course, there are some exceptions, for example, antibiotics that kill the bacteria that cause pneumonia – but even here, the real question is, “Why did this person get pneumonia? Why was his or her immune system unable to prevent it?”) What we’ve done with our technology is help people understand their own unique physiology. Where it is not working properly, why it’s not working properly, and what they can do to restore normal function, so they’ll be healthier.
As my good friend Sid Baker, MD, says, “Medicine is really quite simple, get into the body what is needed and get out what is not.” That is what our technology is about, helping people understand what nutrients they need more of and what toxins are causing them problems.
John: So, what you’re saying is: medicine is complex.
Dr. Pizzorno: Natural, curative medicine is actually more complex than conventional medicine.
John: I’m really glad to hear you say that. That’s something I’ve thought a lot about, and I think the average person in the public out there may have the opposite viewpoint that somehow natural is simple.
Joe: Yes, in some ways natural is simple; in other ways, it’s more complex. As you may know, here in Washington State, I am licensed as a naturopathic physician, which means I can prescribe drugs. I want to tell you for most situations, it’s easier to prescribe a drug than it is to figure out why a person is sick and how to recognize and correct the actual, causes of their illness. If a person has an infection, for example, if a child has recurrent ear infections, the long term conventional medicine, approach has been to use antibiotics. The problem with antibiotics is while they’ll shorten the duration of the current ear infection, they do nothing about dealing with the cause as to why the child has the chronic ear infections. And so the parents just keep coming back, and the doctor keeps giving their child antibiotics.
The more complex approach is to try to figure out why the child has those chronic ear infections. Now we have to consider things like vitamin A deficiency, vitamin C deficiency, zinc deficiency, vitamin D insufficiency, is the child allergic to dairy products, is the child consuming too much sugar, I can go on and on and on. That’s why the conventional MD simply gives these children one antibiotic because they have an infection; you have to look at, literally, twenty or thirty different natural medicine solutions that may be the contributing factors for that person, and it’s hard to find exactly what each person needs.
John: Ok, so, my question was what’s the personal benefit for a user of this Solutions tool? What’s in it for them; and you’ve described very eloquently, I think, what functional medicine or natural medicine is and described how it’s complex. But again, what’s the personal benefit?
Dr. Pizzorno: Good point. Improved health. Plain and simple. Knowing and learning what you need for your own special body, what you uniquely need to become healthier. Not what other people need, not what your next door neighbor needs, what you need. This is about being healthier today, not simply preventing disease in the future.
Dr. Pizzorno: Using Solutions is going to also save people a lot of money, and again, not just in terms of improving their long term health, but right away. They will no longer waste money on vitamins they don’t need because they will know what vitamins they truly need, and if they need to take a higher dosage of certain supplements, so they’ll actually have the beneficial effect the person is looking for.
John: Ok, good. Solutions helps the user to actually solve his or her health problems in a way that’s a real solution rather than just a masking of symptoms. So, is interacting with Solutions just like interacting with a doctor? What are the differences both good and bad?
Dr. Pizzorno: No... We will never replace the need for our own family doctor.... because it’s not just answering questions. It’s doing physical examinations; it’s doing laboratory tests; it’s having somebody who cares about your health. You know practicing medicine is more than going through a question and answer provided by a computer system. However, what Solutions can do is dramatically improve the efficiency and efficacy of the doctor’s intervention or interaction with the patient.
Let’s look at the conventional medical system right now. The average doctor spends, in the U.S., on average, about 10 minutes per patient... in Canada, it’s about 7 minutes. In that short period of time, there’s not a lot any doctor can do in terms of understanding why a patient is sick. What they can do is make a quick diagnosis and write a prescription.
If they want to better establish why a patient is sick, that’s where a tool like ours becomes so useful. Because it jumpstarts the system. It starts the doctor out already with a deep understanding of a person’s health needs.
So they can then focus their time on the next level of personalization. Or figure out what lab tests to run... things of this nature. Not only has the mundane gathering of information part been taken care of for them, but insight is provided into what is causing the patient’s problems.
John: So is this a tool that ideally the doctor would be using or the patient would be using?
Dr. Pizzorno: I think they should be used together. Ideally, the patient would fill out all the parts they can at home. And then when they are done, go see the doctor, who can then say, “OK, let’s run these additional lab tests – which the Solutions system will recommend – it will identify what lab tests should be run – but again, not to make a conventional medicine diagnosis of disease, but to understand the person’s results and the dysfunctions that are unique to the individual and need to be fixed, so the person can become healthy.
John: So to summarize. A user would interact with this software tool. Spend some real time with it. Get a results page and then print that out. Perhaps and take that to their doctor?
Dr. Pizzorno: They could print it out or send the doctor a link to their results on our website. And then the doctor can look at it directly.
John: Well that sort of answers my next question, which was... why would a person use Solutions instead of going to a doctor. Which, of course, you said they wouldn’t; they would do both. First use Solutions, and then go to the doctor.
Dr. Pizzorno: Right. That’s what optimal: to do both. .... find a doctor who is receptive to this cutting edge medicine. And then provide them good evidence of what they should be doing.
John: And, of course, we know that there are 40 million people in the U.S. who are un-insured and can’t afford to go to a doctor. So we know there are going to be a lot of people who use this tool – in spite of what you say – there are going to be a lot of people who use this tool instead of going to a doctor. Do you have a comment about that?
Dr. Pizzorno: As long as they are not expecting our tool to diagnose and treat disease that’s fine. If they are simply looking at the tool as something to help them understand how to become healthier, then that’s how we want the system to be used.
John: When one uses Solutions, what kind of information does the system request?
Dr. Pizzorno: The way we designed this, a person can put in as little or as much information as they want. The more information a person puts in, the more accurate our assessment. I realize not everyone is going to be willing to spend the time to put in everything possible they should put in.
We set up our system so that it will give them guidance no matter how much information they put in. For example, the most complete way of using our system is to go in, answer questions about diseases a person has, answer questions about signs and symptoms, put in any laboratory tests they have done, and answer the diet questionnaire. Go through and answer what the person eats on a daily basis, and they can also enter several days’ worth of their diet if they want to.
Solutions will just keep on developing a better understanding of the person as more and more information is entered into the system.
John: So, at the outset... what’s the short term approach and long term. Is it 15 minutes to what, 2 or 3 hours?
Dr. Pizzorno: Again, it depends on the person. If a person wants to do a complete diet analysis, that will take about 45 minutes. We realize that most people are not willing to spend 45 minutes to do a diet analysis, no matter how good an idea it is.
So what we have done is given people the option of doing a short diet analysis that only takes a few minutes... You answer about 10 questions. And with that, we can start getting some good basic understanding about the person’s nutritional needs. Obviously, this is not as good as doing the complete one, but it’s a good place to start.
As a person gets more and more engaged with the process, and starts to realize how great a benefit it is for their health, then they will start be willing to take more time and do a more complete assessment. And with a more complete assessment, of course, we can give them better and better information.
John: Now, you said earlier, when I asked what kind of information it requests, you mentioned that Solutions does recommend further lab tests? And can it actually prescribe them?
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