After a year of medical school, IBM's Watson passes first milestone

After a year of medical school, IBM's Watson passes first milestone

Summary: IBM's year-long residency at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and Wellpoint is finally producing cognitive computing breakthroughs (and two new products).

TOPICS: Big Data, Health, IBM

IBM's Watson has made its first commercially-developed cognitive computing breakthroughs, the company announced this morning. They arrive after more than a year of training with healthcare partners WellPoint and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

Watson, the intelligent supercomputer, has been studying up on oncology and utilization management in an effort to improve the quality and speed of patient care through personalization. Clinicians and technicians have spent thousands of hours to date helping Watson learn to process analyze and interpret the meaning of complex clinical information using the natural language processing it is known for.

Watson has sure been studying hard. To date, the system has ingested more than 600,000 pieces of medical evidence, two million pages of text (from 42 medical journals and clinical trials) and 1.5 million patient records. The idea is to use all of this information -- decades worth, in some cases -- to help healthcare professionals come to more informed decisions about a specific patient's care.

For Memorial Sloan-Kettering, that includes a special focus on cancer. The institution seeks specialized treatments based on a patient's personal genetic tumor type, so it fed Watson 1,500 lung cancer cases -- from physicians' notes to lab results -- to pursue that goal.

The Maine Center for Cancer Medicine and WESTMED Medical Group are the first two institutions to leverage Watson's expertise; their oncologists will serve as early adopters to test the resulting product.

Wellpoint, on the other hand, focused specifically on utilization management. The managed healthcare company fed Watson more than 25,000 test case scenarios and 1,500 real-life cases to better interpret and analyze them. Nurses also spent some 14,700 hours conducting hands-on training with Watson.

The result? Watson has begun processing common medical procedure requests by providers for members in WellPoint affiliated health plans. The goal: accelerate the review process between a patient's physician and their health plan.

As a result, IBM and its two partners are introducing the first commercial products based on Watson: the Interactive Care Insights for Oncology, developed in conjunction with both partners, as well as the WellPoint Interactive Care Guide and Interactive Care Reviewer, developed specifically with that company.

The former is a cloud-based advisor for clinicians to identify individualized treatment options for patients with cancer.

The latter is a platform that analyzes patient treatment requests and matches them to WellPoint's medical policies and clinical guidelines to present, hopefully, better-informed decisions about a patient's care.

Topics: Big Data, Health, IBM

Andrew Nusca

About Andrew Nusca

Andrew Nusca is a former writer-editor for ZDNet and contributor to CNET. During his tenure, he was the editor of SmartPlanet, ZDNet's sister site about innovation.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • And the results were?

    I would have thought that the most important bits of informations would be the improvements in diagnosis, or efficiency. Any chance those numbers are available?
    • IBM offered no such thing.

      Sadly. The point, I think, is that Watson is beginning to be used as promised. Not quite a "breakthrough" in the traditional supercomputing sense; more a milestone, per the headline.
    • It is probably for the other kind of efficiency that does not look well in

      ... the news.

      This data mining is used for their insurance companies clients to determine cases where they can freely lag with committing to any costly medical treatments and surgeries, where those show little effect or where the delay on cancellation shows little effect on mortality.

      Considering "superpower powers" of this computer, there are a lot of factors, to which insurance companies can track patients' current conditions, make prognosis and cuts here and there, cost-effective, cost-wise.

      Wellpoint is the company whose sole purpose of existence is to make profits -- billions for it, this is their founding/registration statement. So before anything else like more *health*-centered effectiveness, always comes *cost*-centered effectiveness.

      (This is why making profits on such critically important things as health is banned in most of countries of the world.)
      • It's not necessary to ban profit.

        I believe well-designed profit incentives can produce miracles and good solutions. That's the promise of a free market, but that's not what we have right now. Not only are the current incentives misplaced, but elements of the free market that would enable the benefits of competition are "banned".

        The USA government will not solve this situation intelligently (by your measure or mine). And, once they've enacted sufficient bureaucratic entanglements, we will settle in for years of inevitable stagnation and the hardening status quo of a weak solution patched by expensive bandages.
  • guess what operating system

    is Watson running? Yes, you're right it is a GNU/Linux (Suse Enterprise Server) system.