IBM’s Watson: Clinical Decision Making in Healthcare

I came across an article today that talked about IBM’s powerful thinking machine, Watson, and how “he” could be put to a practical use in the real world (aside from beating Jeopardy grand champions). One new possibility, which is already becoming a reality, is to have Watson help with clinical decision making in health care. According to IBM, only 20% of the knowledge physicians use to make their diagnosis and treatment decisions is evidenced-based. As a patient, that scares me. This means 80% of the physicians decision is based on intuition and prior experiences with somewhat similar cases. As a result of this, IBM states that 1 in 5 diagnoses are incorrect or incomplete. According to the Information Week article, this is the latest on Watson’s oncology learning diet:

Over the last year, Watson has been trained on more than 600,000 pieces of medical evidence and two million pages of text from 42 medical journals and clinical trials in the field of oncology. Sloan-Kettering has added details on 1,500 lung-cancer cases, training the technology to interpret physicians’ notes, lab results and clinical research on specialized treatments based on the genetics of tumors.

All this information has been added to Watson’s brain in just the last year. At this pace, Watson will soon have every published medical journal, clinical trial, and fragment of medical evidence stuffed into his mainframe.

IBM has developed an iPad app that can be used to find the best cancer treatment pathway for a given patient. Watson takes into account everything in the patient’s chart, and the physician can add new complications or conditions to the patient’s chart right within the app (they don’t even have to type it, Watson can comprehend your speech!). A short video on IBM’s website gives an amazing overview of just how powerful this app can be when diagnosing patients and selecting evidence-based treatment plans. Watson even gives a percentage indicating the level of confidence he has with each answer. Here is the video showing how the Watson iPad application works. I think it’s awesome, and in the future will be an extremely useful tool for providers to assist in clinical decision making.

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