IBM Watson at Work: Helping Transform Healthcare

by Erin Horan on October 30, 2014

The only machine to ever win a TV game show is now transforming the world of healthcare.

After winning Jeopardy in 2011, IBM’s Watson has moved on to bigger and better things. Mike Rhodin, Senior Vice President of the IBM Watson Group, told the audience at Boston Children’s Hospital’s Global Pediatric Innovation Summit + Awards 2014 how the cognitive computing system is being used to synthesize medical data and assist clinicians caring for complex patients.

“We live in an age of information overload,” Rhodin explained. “The challenge is to now turn that information into knowledge.”

Watson can access and analyze an enormous amount of information in mere seconds, and can also engage users in a digital conversation. An embedded reasoning capability means Watson is much more than just “Q&A.”

And the world is catching on. After the Jeopardy win, Rhodin was flooded with calls and requests for Watson. He was surprised to find out that most of those calls were from doctors, who were more interested in the way Watson sorted and ranked possible answers than the way it produced a final verdict.

Rhodin’s answer: “It’s based on evidence.” And for the doctors, he continued, the lightbulb came on, because they produce hypotheses based on evidence.

One of the first physicians to call Rhodin, Columbia University’s Herbert Chase, MD, asked to put Watson to the test on a case he’d seen as a resident 35 years before:

Dan Cerutti, IBM’s Vice President of Watson Commercialization, demonstrated the technology’s newest healthcare functionality. CarePlex is a shared vision between Boston Children’s Hospital and IBM that aims to share medical expertise with every corners of the world.

Cerutti emphasized that care is—and should be—mostly local. But expertise should not be local. It’s not always possible to transport a patient to a major medical facility. The world’s leading academic medical centers now face an interesting challenge: They can’t treat all of the patients who need their expert care. Is there a way to package a doctor’s time and intellectual property?

Cerutti says yes. There is only one way, and it’s a technology platform.

CarePlex is IBM’s design for this platform. It incorporates an interactive and dynamic medical encyclopedia with interpersonal communications that link physicians with other experts worldwide. The Watson technology can offer guidance for medical treatment and possible diagnoses as it draws from the individual patient’s record as well as aggregated knowledge from entire populations.

Physicians can even see a list of experts who can provide a second opinion, and connect with these individuals through the secure CarePlex site.

IBM is incorporating CarePlex into OpenPediatrics, an ongoing collaboration with Boston Children’s Hospital that provides open source education materials from expert physicians to physicians worldwide. “OpenPediatrics taught us that there is a need for this,” says Cerutti, referring to streamlined, efficient communication among physicians. Making medical expertise accessible, dynamic, and efficient is the healthcare challenge of the information age.

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