Watson Goes Live at Cleveland Clinic

10-17-2013 8-01-10 PM

IBM and the Cleveland Clinic have been working for the past year on a Watson-related project with the goal of co-developing a diagnostician supercomputer capable of supporting medical training and patient care. That effort has resulted in two new products that IBM will spend the next three years field testing at Cleveland Clinic. Watson is a pizza box-sized, artificially intelligent supercomputer created by IBM that uses natural language processing, a database of more than 200 million pages of structured and unstructured content, and sophisticated algorithms to solve complex problems. Watson rose to fame in 2011 when, during a three-day appearance on Jeopardy, it beat former Jeopardy champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter.

In February, IBM announced that it had partnered with Memorial Sloan Kettering to add 600,000 pieces of medical evidence, 1.5 million patient records, two million pages of text from medical journals, 25,000 medical training cases, 1,500 lung cancer cases, and nearly 15,000 hours of clinician-led fine tuning of its medical decision accuracy. The effort was undertaken in preparation for Watson’s first foray into healthcare.

Shortly after, Watson was implemented at the Maine Center for Cancer Medicine and WestMed in New York, where researchers worked to refine its algorithms so that it could begin supporting oncologists by creating probability-based lung cancer treatment plans. For this project, Watson was taught to analyze treatment options and present them to physicians in order of their probability for curing the patients cancer, and with the option of excluding treatments that the patient’s insurance would not cover. During this time, researchers were also teaching Watson how to scan through EHRs and pull out important information.

Now, IBM researchers are expanding Watson’s footstep in healthcare at the Cleveland Clinic. The Watson program at Cleveland will focus on validating two new products: Watson EMR Assistant and WatsonPaths. The Watson EMR Assistant project will provide researchers an opportunity to further refine Watson’s ability to comb through electronic medical records and mine them for valuable diagnostic information.

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WatsonPaths is a project focusing on showing clinicians how Watson came to the conclusion that it did so that clinicians can easily understand the information in the broader context of medicine. Eric Brown, IBM Research Director of Watson Technologies explains, "On Jeopardy! it was not necessarily critical to know how Watson arrived at its answer. But doctors or domain experts in any field will want to understand what information sources Watson consulted, what logic it applied, and what inferences it made in arriving at a recommendation."

Over the next three years Watson will gain the ability to support diagnostic decision-making at the bedside. The goal of the program at Cleveland Clinic is to build a digital assistant that can present doctors with key information from within a patient’s medical record and propose a diagnosis based on probability and science.

If successful, Watson may prove to be a valuable tool in helping address the physician shortage because doctors would likely be able to see more patients if relevant data was able to be automatically extracted from the chart, analyzed, and presented in this way. Optimizing Watson to be able to integrate with the myriad of EHR systems installed across the nation is one major roadblock researchers have identified in scaling Watson commercially. Another is earning the trust of patients and physicians alike.


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  • Dr. Gregg

    One of the most exciting adjuncts to the providers’ clinical arsenal – or at least the potential to become so – since the…uh…well…maybe ever! Thanks for the update, Lt. Dan.

  • TheMDofTruth

    I think “earning the trust of patients” is an overstated issue. We use technology for EVERYTHING. I can imagine some folks (particularly older people), who would be resistant to treatment recommendations that come from Watson. But, I personally would prefer to have my doctor consult Watson when determining my treatment/orders/diagnosis/whatever.

  • Mobile Man

    This is what “Healthcare IT” is all about! We have only begun to scratch the surface… What really “amazes” me is that we’ve placed so much value (spent so much $$?) on this “EMR” concept… It’s just a big electronic filing cabinet. Gotta start somewhere I guess…

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