Health care providers face a huge challenge in keeping up with the large volumes of medical literature and research they must read to stay current in their field. Having the help of a supercomputer — like IBM’s Watson — could make a real difference in their ability to make evidence-based clinical decisions.
IBM researchers are well aware of the potential applications for Watson in health care. Josko Silobrcic, M.D., associate partner at IBM Research and a professor at Harvard University School of Public Health, believes that IBM’s supercomputer could be used in many domains in health care.
In an interview with Health IT Exchange community manager Jenny Laurello at HIMSS11 earlier this year, Silobrcic noted that Watson could be helpful as a diagnostic assistance tool for clinicians, “because they actually have to do what Watson is particularly good at, which is sift through vast amounts of data, and understand vast amounts of information that is in human language, or natural language, format.”
Now IBM has announced an agreement with WellPoint, Inc. to create the first commercial application from Watson, to be used in health care. WellPoint will develop and launch Watson-based solutions that will help physicians determine diagnosis and treatment options for complex cases.
The Watson-based solutions will “have the ability to look at massive amounts of medical literature, population health data, and even a patient’s health record, in compliance with applicable privacy and security laws, to answer profoundly complex questions,” according to IBM’s press release.
Despite having the power of Watson — which can sift through the equivalent of roughly 200 million pages of data, analyze the information and provide a response in less than three seconds — at their fingertips, clinicians will remain the ultimate decision-makers.
“Keep in mind that Watson will always remain a tool,” said Silobrcic. “It will remain…a computer based assistant to clinicians, rather than actually make decisions. I think many people are apt to read a lot into that, but do keep in mind that it’s going to be only be a tool for clinicians.”