By Anne Altman
I’m often asked why I’ve spent the majority of my career at IBM and in particular leading our federal government business. My answer is simple really. Nowhere but IBM can you contribute to innovations that change our world so much, and nowhere but in government can you see technology’s impact on so many lives. Now we’re seeing how one of these great innovations, Watson, is transforming how doctors make decisions about patient care.
Today, IBM announced how the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will use Watson in a two-year pilot to help primary care physicians at the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) accelerate their evidence-based decision making. The clinical focus will include supporting veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
The National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics estimates that the VHA provides comprehensive care to more than 8.3 million veterans each year. According to the VA’s National Center for PTSD, between 11-20% of veterans who served in Operations Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Enduring Freedom (OEF) are diagnosed – in addition to 12% of Gulf War veterans and 15% of Vietnam veterans.
Since Watson helps clinicians use technology in their analysis of large structured and unstructured information in making decisions, VHA physicians can now interact with the data in natural language, process vast amounts of Big Data to uncover patterns and insights, and learn from each interaction. By sifting through reams of clinical data, Watson can distill evidence and knowledge within seconds.
As they make decisions about providing care, VHA physicians can be overwhelmed with the sheer size of medical literature, doubling every five years, and the size and complexity of Electronic Medical Records (EMR). For example, analyzing a single patient’s EMR can be the equivalent of going through up to 100MB of structured and unstructured data, in the form of plain text that can span a patient’s lifetime of clinical notes, lab results and medication history.
The same holds true in helping returning vets transition to civilian life. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 155,000 active military members transition to civilian life each year. Like any career change, moving from a military to a civilian career presents challenges to members and their families. Watson is also helping USAA support their members as they go through this process.
Last month, we celebrated Veterans Day. During a speech at Arlington National Cemetery on that day in 1961, President Kennedy said, “We celebrate this Veterans Day for a very few minutes, a few seconds of silence and then this country’s life goes on. But I think it most appropriate that we recall on this occasion, and on every other moment when we are faced with great responsibilities, the contribution and the sacrifice which so many… have made in order to permit this country to now occupy its present position of responsibility and freedom.”
That sentiment is near and dear to me. I have been fortunate to be involved with the Yellow Ribbon Fund, which is a wonderful organization that supports our brave men and women during their stays at Walter Reed both during and after their treatment. It’s always inspiring and humbling to meet and speak with the brave service men and women who have been treated there.
I’m proud that innovations from IBM can play a role in helping advance the critical primary medical care that they receive.