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IBM Watson makes its clinical decision support debut

Supercomputer-powered tool could be a breakthrough in evidence-based medicine

IBM Watson healthcare 
The new Watson-based cognitive computing product for oncology (PRNewsFoto/IBM)

Two US medical practices have started testing the first commercially-available clinical decision support tools based on IBM's supercomputer Watson.

IBM Watson, which famously beat human contestants on the US game show Jeopardy two years ago, has been 'trained' in oncology and utilisation management for more than a year.

IBM says the technology has the ability to process huge amounts of information in a similar way to how people think and the company partnered with health insurer WellPoint and the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center to combine medical data with clinical practice information.

Now the Maine Center for Cancer Medicine and Westmed Medical Group have become the first two adopters of the new tool, and their oncologists will begin testing the product.

Craig Thompson, president of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, said: "It can take years for the latest developments in oncology to reach all practice settings.

“The combination of transformational technologies found in Watson with our cancer analytics and decision-making process has the potential to revolutionise the accessibility of information for the treatment of cancer in communities across the country and around the world.

"Ultimately, we expect this comprehensive, evidence-based approach will profoundly enhance cancer care by accelerating the dissemination of practice-changing research at an unprecedented pace."

The New York-based cancer hospital began by feeding details of 1,500 lung cancer cases into IBM Watson, 'training' the computer to extract and interpret physician notes, lab results and clinical research.

During this time, clinicians and technology experts spent thousands of hours 'teaching' Watson how to process, analyse and interpret the meaning of complex clinical information using natural language processing in order to ultimately improve health care quality and efficiency. 

The American Cancer Society projects that 1.6 million new cancer cases will be diagnosed in the US this year, but studies suggest the disease's complexity causes one in five healthcare patients to receive a wrong or incomplete diagnosis. At the same time the amount of medical information is doubling every five years.

IBM Watson aims to harness this 'big data' explosion to provide new ways of improving how medicine is taught, practiced and paid for. 

To date the computer has ingested more than 600,000 pieces of medical evidence, two million pages of text from 42 medical journals and clinical trials in the area of oncology research.

Meanwhile, throughout a utilisation management pilot with Wellpoint, IBM Watson absorbed more than 25,000 test case scenarios and 1,500 real-life cases.

In doing so, IBM said Watson gained the ability to interpret the meaning and analyse queries in the context of complex medical data and human and natural language, including doctors notes, patient records, medical annotations and clinical feedback. 

IBM says Watson “continues to learn while on the job, much like a medical resident”, while working with the WellPoint nurses who originally conducted its training.

The new products include the Interactive Care Insights for Oncology, the WellPoint Interactive Care Guide and Interactive Care Reviewer.

Beyond healthcare, IBM is also eyeing potentially lucrative Watson-based applications to improve decision making in industries such as retail, telecommunications and financial services.

11th February 2013

From: Healthcare

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