Watson Update 2012

In October 2011, David Kerr of IBM introduced us to IBM’s Watson and the future of healthcare at the 2011 AZBio Awards.  On June 26th, IBM’s Dr. Martin Kohn provided the latest news.  Here is what he had to share:

“Breakfast with the Chiefs”



In an ideal future, we will have an integrated platform of integrated tools to make it easier for physicians to make decisions.” With 33 years specializing in emergency medicine, Dr. Martin Kohn is acutely aware of the challenges physicians face every day as they strive to deliver quality healthcare effectively, efficiently and with more positive patient outcomes.

In his remarks to the over 150 healthcare practitioners and administrators at Longwoods “Breakfast with the Chiefs” at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, Canada, Dr. Kohn, now the Chief Medical Scientist, Care Delivery Systems at IBM Research, shared some of his deep experience. He outlined how IBM Research, in consultation with experts in healthcare, is working on developing Watson to overcome information overload, address inaccurate or incomplete diagnoses, and make use of the exploding volume of unstructured medical data.

A million medical journal articles a year – information challenges in healthcare

Dr. Kohn said that he has personally experienced the deluge of information and data, especially in the emergency cases he treated during his career as an emergency physician. The statistics back him up. He remarked:

  • Medical information is doubling every 5 years, much of which is unstructured (physicians’ notes, registration forms, discharge summaries, echocardiograms, MRIs, prescriptions, surveys, etc.)
  • 81% of physicians report spending 5 hours or less per month reading medical journals
  • 1 in 5 diagnoses are estimated to be inaccurate or incomplete
  • 1.5 million errors are made in the way medications are prescribed, delivered and taken in the U.S.  every year
  • 44,000-98,000 American patients die from preventable medical errors made in hospitals every year

Source: International Journal of Circumpolar Health, DoctorDirectory.com, Institute for Medicine

Watson as clinical decision support

Dr. Kohn said that what has excited him as a physician is how Watson provides a new level of man+machine collaboration. “Think of Watson as your companion that can read all of that medical information and come back to you with options,” he said. “It is decision support to help process information and bring the possibilities to you.” He underlined that physicians make the final decisions on patient care and treatment.

He also explained how Watson works. He said that with its ability to understand unstructured natural language, Watson can quickly acquire information from the patient and physician, access the patient’s electronic health record, and then read all the related medical literature at up to 60 million pages per second. After processing all of this information, it can offer relevant and prioritized suggestions to the decision-maker, helping physicians identify the best diagnosis and treatment options in complex cases.

Dr. Kohn offered some additional observations on the benefits of Watson based on his long career in the field:

  • Watson only needs medical  information and patient record data so the danger of privacy concerns related to patient identity is alleviated. (Watson’s architecture keeps  sensitive patient record data within the walls of the healthcare organization and within its control. No personal health information is  transmitted across networks.)
  • Watson has no ego so the  “self-reinforcing perception bias” – behaviour where physicians commend  themselves for coming up with a diagnosis (accurate or inaccurate,  complete or incomplete) is averted.
  • Watson proposes next steps  objectively, (based on all the available evidence) again avoiding any  bias.
  • Watson provides links to the   information that led to its recommendations for physicians to review  in-depth.

Watson at work with Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center

Dr. Kohn assured healthcare practitioners and administrators that Watson has now gone beyond the research lab and into the hospital. It is being used to create a powerful new tool to help oncologists worldwide fight cancer. By combining the expertise in cancer treatment of world-renowned Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center with IBM’s Watson’s ability to rapidly process information from a variety of sources, doctors will be able to provide individualized cancer treatment options and diagnoses for patients.

He explained that with its ability to understand human language and build relationships among a variety of information taking into account patient history, doctor’s notes, lab results and the latest clinical research, Watson represents an entirely new class of industry-specific analytics solutions that has the ability to process information in a way that rivals the human brain and understands human language.

Dr. Kohn ended his remarks saying that while his interest in Watson is focused on healthcare, it has vast potential to transform fields as varied as financial services, retail, government and technical support.

Source:  IBM

A Look Back:

Visit the AZBio Expo online (hhtp://online.AZBioExpo.com) and click on INNOVATIONS and then IBM WATSON to view David Kerr’s full presentation at the 2011 AZBio Awards.



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