ROCHESTER, MINN. — It can accomplish in about nine minutes what would take 30 doctors 30 days of work to complete. And now, Watson — the artificially intelligent IBM supercomputer, made famous on Jeopardy — is teaming up with one of the most influential health systems in the country.
The Mayo Clinic and IBM announced Monday that they’re working in concert on a new version of Watson that would link patients more quickly with clinical trials. Doing so under the current method can be an arduous process, with clinical coordinators now manually sifting through patient records to connect them with the right study, Mayo notes in Monday’s announcement. Now, Watson will quickly sort through records and tie patients to the appropriate emerging treatments.
“In an area like cancer — where time is of the essence — the speed and accuracy that Watson offers will allow us to develop an individualized treatment plan more efficiently so we can deliver exactly the care that the patient needs,” Steven Alberts, M.D., chair of medical oncology at Mayo Clinic, said in the release.
After witnessing Watson’s successful run on Jeopardy a few years ago, health care movers have come calling, seeing its potential to transform the industry, Mike Rhodin, senior vice president of IBM Watson Group, said during a speech Monday at Mayo’s Transform 2014 conference. Already, IBM has formed relationships with major players in the industry, including the Cleveland Clinic and insurer WellPoint, among others.
Rhodin said the technology isn’t going to become some Skynet supercomputer that will replace the doctor’s art of diagnosing patients. Rather, it exists to help docs sort through troves of information to determine the best course of treatment.
“We’re only human and mastery has limitations,” Rhodin said. “And, those limitations are being overrun by the information that’s being produced in the world around us — this so-called big data phenomenon … We’re in the middle of an exponential data explosion like one we’ve never seen before and it’s getting faster and faster.”
This data, of course, includes everything from personal wellness information gathered by Fitbits and other wearable devices, to population health data compiled by insurer and health system collaboratives, like the one between Mayo and UnitedHealth. That’s all piled on top of troves of published studies, and drug and clinical trials.
In the speech preceding Rhodin, Lisa Sanders, M.D., New York Times columnist and Yale School of Medicine assistant professor, spelled out a reason why docs should feel excited about this stuff. Despite years of advancement in patient safety, diagnostic errors still remain a huge issue in the field. Some 80,000 patients die a year due to such mistakes, and they’re not just exotic diseases that any average doctor could miss, said Sanders, whose column inspired the TV show “House,” and its title character’s obsession with clinical oddities. Rather, these are every day ailments that make up the most common missed diagnoses, including pneumonia, UTI and acute renal failure. “This is bread and butter stuff and we’re missing it,” she said.