Access to data in the medical profession is priceless. Technology advances are allowing doctors and providers to not only access data quicker, but also provides a huge increase in the amount of data there is to choose from. Things that used to take days or weeks to research can now be researched in minutes or hours for savvy medical practitioners. But what is on the horizon is even more amazing.
Meet Watson the supercomputer developed by IBM. Actually, more of an artificial intelligence system. Some of you may remember hearing about Watson when the supercomputer took on champions in the game of Jeopardy and won in 2011. To help win at Jeopardy, Watson was fed massive amounts of data from encyclopedias, dictionaries, news articles, literary works, just to name a few. Then, it was able to answer questions using natural language processing, information retrieval, and other techniques. Though this process, IBM found Watson was able to provide extremely accurate answers to questions, regardless of how the question was asked.
IBM quickly recognized that this type of system was perfect for healthcare. Watson’s ability to analyze huge volumes of data and reduce it down to critical decision points would obviously make it perfect for a clinical decision support system. Doctors or assistants could simply input symptoms and related factors, then Watson could make suggestions based on thousands upon thousands pieces of data it has stored from medical books, EMR data, clinical studies, journal articles, doctors notes and patient information.
In February of 2011, IBM employed the help of physicians at Columbia University to help identify critical issues in the field of medicine that Watson could assist with and University of Maryland to help determine the best way for Watson to interact with practitioners to provide the best assistance. By September of 2011, IBM and WellPoint partnered up to actually utilize Watson to start suggesting treatment options to doctors.
In 2012 Watson was sent to the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine of Case Western Reserve University for the supercomputer to increase its healthcare data and medical knowledge as well as help medical professionals in treating patients.
More recently, an electronic medical records company, Modernizing Medicine, will partner with Watson to provide an electronic medical assistant app called schEMA. Physicians submit questions about conditions and treatments and will receive responses and treatment suggestions within seconds with information pulled from Watson’s wealth of medical data.
The potential for use of supercomputers in the health care industry is significant. For example, in addition to suggesting options for treatment, Watson can submit treatment proposals to insurance companies and receive near-instant approval from managed-care companies which will allow doctors to proceed with treatments quicker and possibly save lives.
IBM has recently created a business unit around Watson to deliver cloud-based services to businesses in several industries and invested $100 million dollars to help application development based on Watson’s ‘cognitive’ functions. It’s not hard to imagine that other computer developers will soon join the supercomputer revolution which will ultimately greatly benefit the health care industry.