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ibmwatsonTV’s Dr. Gregory House may be brilliant, but, frankly, he could use some help from IBM’s Watson–which is looking for a new challenge now that it has beaten the top human champions at Jeopardy! “House eventually gets to the right diagnosis, but he typically saves the patient only at the last minute,” says Dr. Eliot Siegel, a radiologist and director of the Maryland Imaging Research Technologies Lab at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. “Watson would give House a much higher level of expertise. He’d lose some viewers, but he’d practice better medicine.”

All kidding aside, Siegel believes that a version of Watson designed for the healthcare industry “could revolutionize the way we practice medicine.”

And Siegel has the opportunity to help make that happen. IBM and Nuance Communications today announced a joint effort aimed combining Watson’s advanced analytics  with Nuance’s speech recognition to create services for the healthcare industry. They’ll be assisted by physicians and researchers at Maryland and Columbia University Medical Center. The two companies hope to bring a solution to market in the next 18 to 24 months.

Siegel and his colleagues at the University of Maryland are working to identify the best way that a technology like Watson could interact with doctors and nurses to  to provide the maximum assistance.

Here’s Siegel’s vision of how Watson could help: 1) Read electronic medical records, create summaries and call out what’s important, 2) Read all of the literature in a doctor’s specialty–something no one could do on their own, 3) Check for drug interactions, 4) Comb through clinical data and suggest possible diagnoses and potential treatments, 5) Advise a doctor in real time when they’re meeting with a patient.

But what about the “Toronto” glitch? During his three-day stint on Jeopardy!, Watson made some embarrassing errors–such as the one where it identified Toronto as a U.S. city.

Siegel’s not worried about that. A Dr. Watson would not replace a real doctor; it would just assist the physician. He sees Watson providing some of the help that he now gets from medical students and residents. They give him ideas and backstop him.   “Neither we humans nor the system are infallible, but I look forward to being able to work with Watson and to have it learn a lot and get better over time,” says Siegel. “My medical students and residents leave, but Watson would stay with me. All the knowledge will be preserved, and Watson will get smarter and smarter.”

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Posted by: Rolando Muckerman
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I’m not sure I agree from a technical perspective. But, at the end of the day, I guess our personal opinions are shaped by our previous experience with it. Anyway,…Best Wishes!

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Posted by: Medical Service
November 3, 2011
8:02 am

After Watson as a Medical Doctor, let’s try Watson as a Crime Investigator. I am sure that if you feed ALL data registered in police databases including DNA, fingerprints, pictures, testimonials,etc… Watson would solve a few crimes within a millisecond.

Posted by: David
February 18, 2011
2:46 pm

With regards to a glitch such as the “Toronto” question with a Dr. Watson, I think the fear should be more human complacency than computer error. We humans often fall into believing what we see in front of us. That is why human doctors miss signs leading to more esoteric diagnoses and why they may fall into the trap of accepting a Watson-like system’s answer as gospel, even if it proves to be incorrect.

The challenge will be for medical educators and supervisors to instill in all healthcare professionals a healthy dose of skepticism and a live long curiosity which seeks to look past the obvious, if for no other reason to confirm beyond a shadow of a doubt that the obvious is indeed the most likely answer. No tool can be effective unless the person using it has the desire and the expertise to use it correctly.

Posted by: Alessandro Rosa
February 18, 2011
2:03 pm

watson doesnt get its info from the web it is entered into its database. so med books would be entered into watsons database and it would reference them not the internet.

Posted by: Conrad
February 18, 2011
9:23 am

Hi Steve,
I used to watch House allot and one episode comes to mind one where the a patient was suffering from a blood born parasite. The team ran tests, tests and more tests on the patient but no one looked at an actual sample of the patients blood.. Eventually one of the residents did and viola there were the parasites staring back at them through the microscope…

I love the idea that Watson can dramatically improve our doctors ability to figure out the cause of our ailments and diseases but fear to a degree that the medical field will become ultra reliant on the system and overlook the basics… Like looking at the blood sample on the slide.

Posted by: Phillip Wall
February 18, 2011
1:47 am

As a software engineer this approach appears hazardous to me. Publications found in the www are — hopefully — based on the personal experience of the medics. If these experiences are based only on information gathered from the web, it smells like a peculiar feed back loop. Be careful what you do!

Regards Uwe

Posted by: Uwe Sauerland
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February 18, 2012
5:03 pm

[...] In an interview in February, Dr Siegel outlined the vision for how a trained Watson system could help: [...]

Posted by: What has Watson been up to since Jeopardy? « dale lane
February 18, 2011
3:26 am

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Posted by: IBM’s Watson: Jeopardy! champ. Planet’s health and everything expert consultant ? « Kempton – ideas Revolutionary
February 17, 2011
11:16 pm

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