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IBM's Watson Heads for Clinics, Spurring Debate

Scott Mace, for HealthLeaders Media, February 12, 2013

To those who protest that Watson will simply be too much technology for too little gain, it's worth remembering that the amount of medical data available doubles every five years. In 2010, the National Library of Medicine cataloged 700,000 new articles. "I didn't read them all," Kohn quips. "There's information out there that we could use that we can't get to. Businesses that can process that information are two times as likely to succeed."

Kohn is IBM Research's chief medical scientist for care delivery systems. He co-authored IBM's white paper on the patient-centered medical home. But he is also a graduate of MIT, with engineering bachelor's and Master's degrees. He speaks both geek and doc—and both are definitely required for this "grand challenge," as IBM terms it.

If Watson can help providers prevent "avoidable" adverse events, it might prove to be a prudent investment. But for the time being, Watson will only be available to the largest healthcare organizations. Small practices won't be able to afford it, at least not until someone offers Watson in some sort of pre-packaged offering in the cloud. That will take some time.

Remember that natural language free-text analysis is just one piece of the analytics puzzle. Analysis of structured data and images, offers its own separate benefits to healthcare. And improving healthcare is a lot harder than winning a Jeopardy game.

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3 comments on "IBM's Watson Heads for Clinics, Spurring Debate"


bobstucco (2/18/2013 at 11:40 AM)
You're right about someone needing to do the hands-on evaluation, but with Watson, would that person still need to be a board-certified physician?

Jeff (2/16/2013 at 9:06 AM)
The phrase "thought he knew most everything" speaks volumes. Many physicians I know suffer from the cognitive bias of over-confidence, to the detriment of patients. Where Watson truly shines is in avoiding the cognitive biases that plague us humans.

J.Lord (2/14/2013 at 4:52 PM)
As a patient, I would welcome any technology that could diagnose and suggest treatment based on both historic and the most current data. No physician has the time to stay 100% current on all treatment options. We'll always need practitioners to do the human-to-human part of the exam [INVALID]'hands-on' and eye-to-eye feedback [INVALID] that machines will never replace.