Watson at Work: Achieving Better Outcomes With Doctors and Their Patients

We're entering an era where machines can "think" and "learn", forever transforming the way healthcare will be taught, practiced and paid for.
Manoj Saxena, General Manager of Watson Solutions, IBM

Being entrepreneurial minded, I'm always looking at ways to apply science and technology to help transform traditional business practices, drive societal good, and bring demonstrable benefit to the individual. Which is why I'm so excited to be part of a game-changing, history making, collaborative project called Watson. Earlier this year we delivered the first two commercial applications of an entirely new category of computing, called a cognitive system.

After decades of programmatic computing, we're finally entering an era where machines can navigate the complexities of human speech, ingest vast amounts of disparate and unstructured data (e.g. texts, e-mails, blogs, etc.), and "think" and "learn" from their experiences, much the way humans do. In turn, this new generation of systems is a more intuitive way for humans to interact with computers, extract the insights they need to make evidence-based decisions, and accomplish outcomes once thought unattainable.

Since defeating Jeopardy!'s all-time champions two years ago, IBM Watson has evolved from a quiz show winner to an innovative set of award-winning working cognitive solutions. IBM has commercialized these offerings to help leading healthcare organizations tackle major challenges. By partnering over the past year with organizations including WellPoint and Memorial Sloan-Kettering, we have successfully transformed Watson into a leaner (25% smaller), faster (240% greater throughput), and smarter system that's poised to help transform how doctors work to increase efficacy and efficiency in treating their patients.

Last month we achieved a critical milestone, unveiling the first two commercial Watson enabled solutions, a feat achieved in under a year versus the four and one-half years it took to advance the technology out of IBM Research for the Jeopardy! use case. These new breakthroughs have the potential to transform the quality of care, speed of delivery, and efficiency of operation, forever transforming the way healthcare is taught, practiced and paid for. 

Why is this important?

According to the Institute of Medicine, 30 percent of the $2.3 trillion dollars spent each year on health care is wasted, due in part to overuse and inappropriate use of health care dollars. Some of that waste comes from a slow or inefficient pre-approval process health coverage for medical procedures, a process called utilization management.Watson's cognitive capabilities can rapidly process medical information from a variety of sources to help doctors and nurses improve patient care and insurance providers speed up review and approval.

This is one place where Watson is already at work. Having processed more than 25,000 training cases to date, IBM is addressing this challenge by advancing evidence-based insights to key stakeholders involved in the process of recommending and reviewing suggested tests and treatments. This helps ensure patients receive the prescribed treatment in the most expeditious fashion. Nurses meticulously have trained Watson for this role, spending more than 14,700 hours of hands-on training.

WellPoint is using the interactive system with a select number of providers in the Midwest, and believes more than 1,600 providers will use the product by the end of the year. WellPoint is also planning on adding more than 1,500 nurses to the system to process and review pre-authorization requests.

The American Cancer Society predicts that this year alone, 1.6 million new cancer cases will be diagnosed in the United States alone. Taking on an expanded role in healthcare, Watson has been working with leading oncologists to advance the course of treatments for cancer victims. This disease is the number one worldwide cause of death, affecting one in four individuals.

Being able to assist physicians with creating individualized treatment plans, enhancing clinical confidence and reducing errors is exceptionally rewarding. Doctors can tap into the power of Watson via the cloud, ultimately using their personal computer, tablet or smartphone, to improve the quality, consistency and speed of care. Combining the power of analytics, natural language, and big data, Watson can sift through millions of records of medical information in seconds, to provide confident weighted treatment options to physicians and there patients to make the most informed decisions.

Our work with WellPoint and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center represents a landmark collaboration in how technology can transform the way in which healthcare is practiced. These breakthrough capabilities are just the first in a series of Watson-based technologies that will apply big data and analytics and cognitive computing in other industries to tackle many of today's most pressing challenges.

About the author of this Post

Manoj Saxena, General Manager of Watson Solutions, IBM
As IBM General Manager of Watson Solutions, Manoj Saxena is responsible for the commercialization efforts of IBM's Watson technology globally. Before joining IBM in 2006, Saxena was an active member of the IT venture capital community and led two successful venture-backed software companies. Saxena holds a master's degree in business administration from Michigan State University, and a master's in management sciences from the Birla Institute of Technology & Science in Pilani, India.
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