Prescription for Information Overload

With medical research doubling every five years, doctors can now rely on Watson to stay up to date on every new development in medical literature.
Simeon A. Schwartz, MD, Chairman and CEO, WESTMED Practice Partners

Doctors cannot possibly stay up to date on every new development for every ailment in medical literature.

As doctors, it's not just that we're dealing with a wide variety of complicated illnesses that attack individual patients in different ways. It's that there's a deluge of information, with the amount of new medical research doubling every five years. And we could use it to become smarter about treating these diseases if we could keep up with it all.

Our profession is the classic example of information overload.

Which is exactly why we at WESTMED are ushering the Watson computer into our offices as a physician's assistant.

The mission of WESTMED is to improve the health of the community by being the future of healthcare today. We're not an early follower. As a physician-owned medical group just outside of New York City, we invest time and energy to be ahead of the curve. That's why we led the industry in pioneering coordinated care and adopting new technology.

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Watson is a perfect fit at WESTMED. We believe Watson will help us get a handle on the tidal wave of information we face. It will learn from our patient cases and track the new research that we could never know. We'll learn about new advances, and Watson will learn about patients and protocols.

Watson shot into the spotlight two years ago when it beat two grand champions on the TV show Jeopardy!, using the ability to understand how humans speak, a massive database, and sophisticated analytics to size up the probability of the correctness of different answers.

Since then, IBM partnered with medical groups to apply Watson to the medical field, creating new services that help doctors diagnose diseases and choose the best treatments for individual patients.

It's these innovations that my group is rolling out. The service we'll be using pulls together an encyclopedic, ever-expanding database of knowledge to assess and manage cancer treatments. Watson was taught to compare case files with treatment guidelines and published research to make suggestions about treatment and tests. Watson learns as it handles each case, being corrected or given new information by the medical staff at WESTMED.

During the first phase, we plan to feed our historical case files about lung cancer into Watson, which will be available throughout our computer network to authorized personnel through PCs or tablets. We want to do a retrospective comparison of what we did using our normal methods and what Watson says we should have done. We'll be looking for whether there were recommendations that we didn't think about or know about and see whether that's clinically significant or not. Our goal is to complete that phase in three months.

As we make it clear to our community of patients, this additional tool that increases the reliability of our decision making will demonstrate one more time how we manage to stay ahead of the curve and provide coordinated, efficient and quality care.

Right now, the push in healthcare reform is to figure out how to provide the right service at the right time in the right place at the right price. Using the medical knowledge already piling up out there, Watson will help define exactly what that will mean.

About the author of this Post

Simeon A. Schwartz, MD, Chairman and CEO, WESTMED Practice Partners
Dr. Simeon A. Schwartz is Chairman & Chief Executive Officer of WESTMED Practice Partners, a management services company.  He is also founding President and CEO of WESTMED Medical Group. He has been committed to improving both operational and clinical efficiency with a focus on quality. To accomplish this, Dr. Schwartz and WESTMED have been early adopters of healthcare IT and have worked with many IT vendors with process and system redesign to improve care.
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