Medical decision making can be extremely challenging. Physicians are counted on to make the correct diagnosis and choose the proper treatment for each patient. If they’re wrong, the patient suffers. If they’re terribly wrong, the outcome can be even worse.
So why not give doctors some computing intelligence to help improve their results?
That’s one of the challenges that that inspired scientists at IBM Research – Haifa to help transform healthcare globally. In fact, the Haifa lab is the lead location for healthcare-related work among IBM’s 9 laboratories worldwide–and making the most of medical information is one of its key focuses. “The important thing to realize is that data is king in healthcare. We can transform decision making, and we can use genetic insight to make personalized medicine possible,” says Haim Nelken, manager for integration technologies at IBM Research – Haifa.
It’s no surprise that the topic for the colloquium being conducted there today is The Future of Healthcare. The colloquium is part of an IBM centennial program designed to convene thought leaders – including leading scientists, academics, leaders of industries, public policy makers and IBM clients — for a series of talks and panel discussions on transformational technologies and their potential impact on the world.
The Haifa colloquium will include presentations by IBM scientists and outside experts, including Jonathan Halevy, director general of Israel’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center, who will speak about the doctor-patient relationship in the Internet era, Dieter Enzmann, chair of UCLA radiology, who will discuss the digital transformation of medical imaging, and Itsik Pe’er, professor of computer science at Columbia University, who will speak about the role of computation in human genetics. The main focus is on the transformation of the decision making process.
The IBM research team in Haifa is working on technology that could provide physicians valuable new tools to help with diagnosis and treatment. They’re experimenting with natural language processing and machine learning, just like the core capabilities in the Watson machine. But, in addition, they’re exploring the possibilities of infusing new data and knowledge—including know-how from physicians about best practices and genetic data.
Nelken says the research is done with the awareness that all of the participants in the healthcare ecosystem will use the new information science tools in ways that researchers can’t predict. That means the solutions they come up with have to be flexible. For example, we might even see something like a smartphone app store specializing in applications and services that help people use medical information. One service might review the medical information from a family and predict the diseases and medical conditions to which the family members are vulnerable. This will allow people to get check-ups and early warnings of looming problems–or allow them to change their lifestyles to reduce the potential for having specific health problems. Perhaps insurance companies will even offer special policies for individuals based on genetic information.
Many scientific and policy challenges that will have to be overcome for this vision to become a reality. “We’re beginning to have access to a lot of genetic information, which could lead to truly personalized medicine. But tailoring medicine to an individual is no trivial matter,” Nelken says.
But that’s the goal of the healthcare research team in Haifa. Through collaboration with other IBM researchers around the world and experts like those speaking at the Haifa colloquium, they hope to take much of the uncertainty out of the practice of medicine.