IBM's Watson Heads for Clinics, Spurring Debate
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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