In February of 2011, IBM set a series of Jeopardy matches between the show’s highest ranked contestants against its $100 million computer named Watson. With the ability of natural speech recognition and specialized algorithms that could parse through 200 million pages of data in under three seconds, Watson was able to defeat the top contestants with a resounding win.
Games aside, the practical medical application of Watson goes far ahead. Where once Google substituted for quick searches on symptoms and possible causes, Watson has effectively replaced that search engine approach with a question and answer based diagnosis. Its diagnosis draws on the patient’s medical records as well as other combinations of scientific data that result in a ranking of possible diagnoses.
Different Than Google
Watson’s input is in plain English and not keywords. Moreover, it draws its possible diagnoses on the patient’s medical records, history of being prone to a disease, symptoms the patient is describing, and lab results. This technology doesn’t replace a doctor at all, it only aids the doctor. Remembering all of the results of certain symptoms and disease information can be overwhelming for doctors who are mostly already over-worked and on a tight schedule. Watson helps the doctor in picking up on certain clues and suggests a number of possible diagnoses. Dr. Herbert Chase, a professor of clinical medicine in biomedical informatics at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, says:
“There’s a lot of memorizing involved in medicine, and if you’re memorizing, you’re not analyzing…” (1)
With Watson’s incredible success rate, it can reduce time and cost of diagnosis that otherwise would take doctors months to figure out. Dr. Chase suggests that Watson could also play a role in treatment and personalized medication. Watson’s ability to consult a database of genetic information and retrieve drug combinations that relate to the specific gene’s of the patient in question, result in greater efficiency for the medical practice.
Roll Out of Watson
IBM is working with several partners in trying to have Watson’s technology ready for medical use as early as 18 to 24 months from now. Watson’s potential of integrating with EMR/EHR systems can help propel medicine to a new field.