Health IT

IBM Watson Health is 21st Century aide to docs

IBM Watson Health is meant to bring in best practices from an institution and cross-reference those with the vast body of medical knowledge out in the world.

Dr. Anil Jain speaks at MedCity CONVERGE 2016

Dr. Anil Jain speaks at MedCity CONVERGE 2016

Why IBM Watson Health? Why cognitive computing?

The amount of medical data floating around servers and the cloud is expected to double every 73 days by 2020, Dr. Anil Jain, IBM Watson Health’s vice president and CMO, said in a keynote to open MedCity CONVERGE Tuesday in Philadelphia.

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Someone or something needs to be able to parse all that information, and, as informatics pioneer Dr. Larry Weed said half a century ago, the unaided human mind can’t possibly be up to the task. Enter cognitive computing.

“At the heart of it, a cognitive system is a system that can understand,” Jain said. “It can also see,” he added. “It can also reason, which means it can generate various hypotheses,” then test those hypotheses at rates humans could never achieve.

The system is comprised of three layers: Data, analytics and behavior change. “I think they are foundational,” Jain told MedCity News after his keynote.

Watson is meant to bring in best practices from an institution and cross-reference those with the vast body of medical knowledge out in the world.

“Watson is reading the same journals that if you had all the time in the world, you could read,” Jain said. The same idea applies to textbooks and medical records. His hope is that Watson speeds up physicians rather than become a “black box” that slows them down.

“We are creating tools to help augment how we manage patients,” Jain explained. Jain, who still practices part time at the Cleveland Clinic, said he often feels anxious when he doesn’t know everything he needs to know about a patient, so a computer system that doesn’t overwhelm him with alerts is welcome in his world.

What physicians should not feel is threatened by cognitive computing. “As opposed to being a threat, we see it becoming an assistant” Jain said. “Watson is not treating the patient. We are.” Nor is Watson making diagnoses or replacing human creativity.

To date, IBM has put about $8 billion into Watson Health, including $4 billion for acquisitions since April 2015, according to Jain. Most recently, last week, IBM launched a supply-chain management company, Pensiamo, in collaboration with University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

The goal of Pensiamo is to transform the business end of healthcare through cognitive computing. “It’s looking at the supply chain side of healthcare” to address some of the administrative inefficiencies, Jain said.

“Hospitals are, in many ways, logistics companies,” Jain said, and Watson is supporting logistics in other industries.

Photo: Meghan Uno/Breaking Media