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Cognitive computing in healthcare: MD Anderson puts IBM Watson on hold

News recently broke that MD Anderson put its project with IBM Watson on hold. Some interpreted this to be a setback for AI and cognitive computing in healthcare. Others disagree.

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Despite recent news that the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston put its project with IBM Watson on hold, this morning at the annual Health Information and Management Systems Society conference, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty declared that the era of cognitive computing in healthcare is upon us.

"It actually is an era that will play out in front of us, which is what we call the cognitive era," Rometty told the crowd. "I hope to persuade you … that this idea of cognitive healthcare, systems that learn, that this is real and it's mainstream and it is here and it can change almost everything about healthcare."

I hope to persuade you ... that this idea of cognitive healthcare, systems that learn, that this is real and it's mainstream and it is here and it can change almost everything about healthcare.
Ginni RomettyCEO, IBM

Rometty made these comments as various publications reported that the Watson project, which created a product known as the Oncology Expert Advisor had been placed on hold. One such article, published by Forbes, said the project was put on hold because IBM Watson did not meet its goals at MD Anderson and suggested in a headline that it was a "setback for artificial intelligence in medicine."

The project was put on hold following an audit conducted by the University of Texas System Administration, which found that MD Anderson not only spent $62 million on IBM Watson Health, but also didn't establish purchase rules for the project. However, the report said that "results stated herein should not be interpreted as an opinion on the scientific basis or functional capabilities of the system in its current state." The report also noted that "medical oncology staff also told us that internal pilot testing of Lung OEA (Oncology Expert Advisor which is powered by IBM Watson Health) achieved an accuracy of prediction near 90%, but advised that significant updating is needed before OEA can be tested further."

According to Christine Douglass, communications manager at IBM Watson, "The audit report from the University of Texas focuses on procurement practices at MD Anderson and states in the executive summary that it does not assess the value or capabilities of Watson and should not be interpreted as such."

The fact that MD Anderson has put its project with IBM Watson on hold doesn't seem to faze some health IT experts in respect to artificial intelligence (AI) and cognitive computing in healthcare.

Indranil Ganguly, vice president and CIO at JFK Health System in Edison, N.J., said this hasn't changed how he thinks about AI and cognitive computing in healthcare.

"At the community hospital level, we're trying to track AI to determine when it will reach the right cost-benefit point," he wrote in a text message. "Organizations like MD Anderson have the bandwidth to lead the charge and experiment in these areas."

Dan Housman, CTO of ConvergeHEALTH by Deloitte, told SearchHealthIT in an earlier story that he believes the adoption of AI, cognitive computing and machine learning will move very fast in healthcare and be applied in many different use cases.

SearchHealthIT reached out to MD Anderson, but they were unable to respond in time for this article.

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