Dr. Watson will see you now: IBM's supercomputer can analyze your medical history, point to likely diagnoses

By on October 15, 2013, 12:30 PM
ibm, artificial intelligence, watson, ibm watson, electronic medical records, emr, natural language

Job offers have been flying left and right for IBM’s Watson supercomputer ever since it famously beat two of the world’s top Jeopardy! players in 2011. From pastry chef to Wall Street analyst to a customer service worker answering phones at a call center. Now, after spending the last year honing its medical skills, Watson is ready to try its hand at helping doctors improve differential diagnoses and create better treatments.

IBM Research today announced two programs in collaboration with the Cleveland Clinic that are designed towards that goal. The first, WatsonPaths, uses the supercomputer’s question-answering abilities to examine a medical case from many angles, drawing inferences to support or refute a set of hypotheses in real time based on numerous data sources including reference materials, medical journals and a patient’s records.

WatsonPaths also incorporates feedback from physicians who can drill down into the medical text to decide if certain chains of evidence are more important than others and lead to the strongest conclusions.

The technology allows doctors to sift through information much more efficiently than they could on their own, while Watson’s artificial intelligence ties evidence together to support treatment options. Initially WatsonPaths will be used as a classroom training tool designed to help students and physicians make more informed and accurate decisions, and also to improve their critical reasoning skills. But the real-world potential is clear.

According to Dr. Neil Mehta from the Cleveland Clinic, Watson has already found things with a couple of patients that he initially missed. “It doesn't work every time, but it's getting better,” he said.

The second program, Watson EMR Assistant, aims to make sense of the massive amount of health data within electronic medical records to unlock hidden insights and help physicians make better decisions.

As IBM and the Cleveland Clinic note, the potential of EMRs has not been realized due to the discrepancies of how the data is recorded, collected and organized across healthcare systems and organizations. There’s no standardization and there's often missing data or strange alternative terms in use.

Using Watson’s natural language expertise and machine learning abilities the goal is to process unstructured data such as clinical notes, lab results and medication history in a way that makes better sense and correlates important events throughout the patient's medical history to help with decision making.

User Comments: 8

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MilwaukeeMike said:

Newsflash IBM, there's a ton of medical history that's still in files on a shelf. The stuff that is online is spread between whatever different doctors a person has seen. The history from a primary physician may be on a different system than the neurologist who may use a different system than the orthopedic surgeon. So when Dr. Watson gets the question 'What's causing my migraines?' it might have some trouble.

But wait... why don't we just connect all those systems together so we can share data between them? Because our government, in their infinite wisdom, passed this thing called HIPPA which supposedly protects our 'privacy' but it also means that getting medical data out of a computer system is harder than getting an apology out of a politician. There's a pile of forms to fill out just to get your OWN medical records.

Ok, rant is over. Seriously though, IBM, good luck.

JC713 JC713 said:

This is phenomenal, but Mike is right, there is still a TON of non-digital history.

Guest said:

Primary care physicians could be replaced by an app. Think about it.

Mikymjr Mikymjr said:

Awesome! ^^ I hope they keep on improving this. It could mean a lot for a lot of people =)

Skidmarksdeluxe Skidmarksdeluxe said:

Just think... Watson didn't even have to spend a long term studying & doing internship & now it it has some esteemed professors consulting it... not bad.

Nima304 said:




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Guest said:

AI is the way of the future, even in gaming.

I'm looking forward to the days that the gaming industry understands the importance of an intelligent AI (and not that laughable rubbish we have right now), so that we're not forced to play against teens who lack any kind of sense of tactics and strategy and who rage quit every time they get powned.

misor misor said:

Innovation, what machines/softwares lack and is inherently present in humans. for outbreaks of strange diseases and emergence of previously undiscovered/undocumented diseases, the machines/softwares have no coping capacity because of reliance on previously collected data. I see the importance of the system in cases where there is no primary physician or no emergency medical technicians or is used as an adjunct. besides, with hackers lurking around, what happens if the software gets hacked and inserted with malicious codes and the patient dies/incapacitated/wrongly treated? I am suing for medical mal-OS!

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