Why IBM Watson is Important

February 8, 2013

watson_avatar2_140x140First he won at Jeopardy.  Now he’s helping treat cancer.

IBM, WellPoint, and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center today unveiled the first commercially developed Watson-based cognitive computing breakthroughs.  This is transformative stuff.  IBM Watson is using evidence-based treatment models to individualize care and improve the speed and quality of treatment.  Doctors from Memorial Sloan-Kettering have spent thousands of hours “teaching” Watson how to process analyze and interpret the meaning of complex clinical information using natural language processing.

IBM Watson videos to see how it all works.  Essentially, Watson takes data from the EHR and analyses it against published data to offer confidence-scored suggestions for treatment.  Physicians can drill as deep as they want with Watson.

Here’s why this is important:

There’s too much to know.  Information and knowledge are exploding at a rate that humans can no longer follow.  Watson offers machine-based relief delivered in the context of a patient’s specific situation.

This is what an EHR should do.  Watson offers what I’ve always pictured an EHR should do: provide a two-way dialog with evidence-based suggestions for treatment.  This represents the first practical, and perhaps the most impressive, application of AI in a clinical setting.  Think of Watson as that friendly nurse who asks, “have you thought about this?

Watson redefines the physician.  This demonstrates how the role of the physician is evolving.  Physicians will not be replaced, but rather radically redefined by machine-based intelligence.  We are moving from learning what we need to know to learning how to access what we need to know.

There’s lots to consider here and I’ll post more as ideas arise.  Let me know what you think


Mark Wanner February 8, 2013 at 1:09 pm

I find the idea of applying a data driven interactive database to clinical care extremely interesting. I’ve followed the Watson project since its post-Jeopardy inception and have seen a lot of negative commentary about it, almost all of it from doctors. I was therefore very encouraged to see your preliminary thoughts, which echo mine. I admit I come at it from a genomics research rather than clinical perspective, but it seems like this kind of enhanced data integration/delivery is important for leveraging new understanding, including from genomics, in clinical care.

Dewey Jones February 11, 2013 at 11:45 am

I agree that there is too much to know for each patient. Using technology to aid us is not new. Watson will re-define our roles in patient care. I wonder if robotic surgery will be combined with AI and make a new role for surgeons?

Rita Manley RN March 7, 2013 at 11:19 pm

3/7/2013 As an RN for over 31yrs I disagree
that IBM Watson alone will cure cancer.
Any patient who is sick with cancer, needs
the doctor to do an exam, speak to the patient
& find out from the patient if he/she is in pain
from the cancer& where. Also, from the chemo&
radiation, if the patient is weak& nauseated.
Healthcare for Cancer patients has to be
Patient-Centered, with doctors and nurses
giving the cancer patient human contact.

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