We have extensively covered the development of IBM‘s “Watson” – the cognitive robot that rose to popularity through its domination on “Jeopardy!”. Briefly, IBM has been developing Watson since 2006 and featured the robot on Jeopardy! Grand Challenge in 2011. Also in 2011, IBM began commercializing Watson for healthcare-related purposes.
With the push towards evidence-based medicine, this step by IBM couldn’t have come at a better time. Medical literature evolves at the blink of an eye, and it is impossible even for the most learned of physicians to keep up with all the data involved in this field. Its in fact estimated that only 20% of what the average doctor practices is evidence-based.
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC), one of the world’s premier cancer institutions, realized that a technological solution was necessary to promote personalized diagnosis and treatment suggestions for individual patients. With that in mind, MSKCC teamed with IBM in March of last year to analyze thousands of MSKCC’s patient records along with literature and treatment guidelines. Now that Watson is translating some of that analysis to decision-support, MSKCC, IBM, and WellPoint (managed healthcare company) announced earlier this year that they are teaming to incorporate Watson into medical practice. According to the MSKCC press release:
Beginning with breast and lung cancers, the organizations are consolidating clinical expertise, molecular and genomic data, and a vast repository of cancer case histories into an evidence-based solution. “Watson’s capability to analyze huge volumes of data and reduce it down to critical decision points is absolutely essential to improve our ability to deliver effective therapies and disseminate them to the world,” says Dr. Craig Thompson, president and CEO of MSKCC.
Now, hospitals and other provider institutions who sign up can buy or rent Watson’s advice from the cloud or their own server, which has decreased in physical size tremendously since it was featured on Jeopardy!. Initial customers include both practitioner and research institutions.
Watson in these scenarios won’t provide a concrete answer in any case; it simply takes every new piece of information fed into it by a doctor or nurse and uses that to adjust potential drug regimens, procedural recommendations, or diagnostic considerations. Although mainly meant to be used by clinicians, Wellpoint is also using Watson in its internal utilization management program to determine what services are best to cover for patients. Really amazing stuff.
Check out a video below from IBM explaining through a case example how Watson can help doctors make cancer care more efficient: