By Richard Silberman, Writer/Researcher, IBM Communications
As a medical student in a large public hospital in New York City, Basit Chaudhry, M.D., first experienced one of the most vexing problems facing doctors today: How do you discover and deal with all the information that’s required to provide optimal care?
“So much of what doctors do today is about trying to figure out how to collect and aggregate all the necessary medical data,” Dr. Chaudhry said. “As I went further along in my training and practice it became more and more apparent to me that if we don’t solve this problem, it’s going to be difficult to build a better, more humane healthcare system.”
Motivated to make a difference, Dr. Chaudhry went on to get his Ph.D. in health services research and informatics and focus on applying technology to solve the medical data challenge. Today, as a medical scientist at IBM Research, Dr. Chaudhry is developing solutions to help clinicians manage and analyze the overwhelming amount of medical data and new knowledge available to them — and ultimately change the very foundation of how healthcare is delivered.
Managing the medical data deluge
One of the most promising initiatives Dr. Chaudhry is part of involves applying IBM Watson technology to support the cognitive activities involved in clinical care. Watson, a revolutionary computing system that can analyze the meaning and context of human language, is most famous for defeating two champions from the quiz show Jeopardy! last year.
“The main thing Watson does for medicine is that it allows us to better organize what we know about medicine and put it at the fingertips of the people who need to access it,” said Dr. Chaudhry, a clinical advisor to the Watson team. With new clinical research and medical information now estimated to double every five years, a tool to help clinicians find the data they require is crucial.
Using the same DeepQA technology that won Jeopardy!, Watson can pore through the equivalent of 200 million pages of medical data and formulate a response to clinicians’ queries in less than three seconds — helping them make more informed diagnosis and treatment decisions more quickly than ever before.
“Watson will allow medical professionals to focus more on their clinical activities and spend less time looking for information and sorting through paperwork,” Dr. Chaudhry said. “That’s going to mean better care and better patient outcomes.”
Video — Perspectives on Watson: Healthcare
Thought leaders share their perspectives on how Watson could impact the way doctors diagnose and treat patients.
Better care for chronic illness
One area where Watson may prove most valuable is in caring for patients with chronic diseases, such as diabetes and cancer, where a more proactive, team-based model of care is required than for patients with acute conditions.
“Taking care of chronically ill patients gets very complicated because it involves multiple healthcare professionals and often multiple organizations over a prolonged time frame — potentially decades,” Dr. Chaudhry said. “A lot of knowledge coordination and information integration is required.”
Watson has the potential to facilitate chronic disease management by better organizing the data and new knowledge clincians need to take proactive steps to improve prognoses and prolong life. According to Dr. Chaudhry, this may one day include integrating data from sensors that will indicate whether a patient is sticking to his or her medication schedule — a vital matter when it comes to chronic care.
Smarter health vs. smarter healthcare
Dr. Chaudhry’s long-range goal is not just to fix the current healthcare system, but to help realize a new model for healthcare altogether.
“I think smarter healthcare must be more focused on health rather than disease,” Dr. Chaudhry said. “Through the use of innovation I hope we can develop a different kind of health system — and I mean health, not just healthcare — that will be focused more on wellness and less on treating illness after the fact.”
According to Dr. Chaudhry, greater instrumentation is needed across society to provide data on the full range of factors that impact public health, so societies can make smarter decisions to ensure the health of their citizens.
“Watson could be the central nervous system of a much larger, instrumented architecture that integrates and analyzes this public health data to help yield a healthier population,” Dr. Chaudhry said.
For a flickr slide show about the use of Watson in healthcare, click here.