Queensland-based Icon Group has announced plans to adopt IBM Watson for Oncology, an artificial intelligence (AI) and cognitive computing platform that will provide the organisation's oncologists with access to massive amounts of global research to help them better inform patient treatment plans.
"Being in the cancer care sector, we've been watching with great interest the way that Watson for Oncology has been utilised in other markets," Cathie Reid, co-founder of Icon Group, told ZDNet.
"There's an incredible amount of medical literature already available and that's growing at an exponential rate and being able to have that information available in a curated form at the touch of your fingertips is something that our physicians are very excited about."
Speaking with ZDNet, Reid said she was excited about the opportunity to work with IBM on how the organisation can incorporate Watson into its telehealth and telemedicine techniques to deliver more advanced care to those living in regional and remote Australia.
One in two Australians will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime and it is the nation's leading cause of death. As Reid explained, rural-based patients don't always have access to specialist oncologists for their particular cancer type, and are often faced with the financial and emotional burden of frequent long distance travel to reach specialists in major cities.
It's something she hopes the use of Watson will change.
"There's healthcare professionals throughout regional and remote Australia and for patients with cancer, those local providers are usually quite intimately involved in their care, but they need to draw on that specialist oncologist knowledge," she explained.
"We're certainly envisaging a scenario where the patient and their local care provider can work together to enter the existing information around their condition in Watson; that information then generates a series of recommendations which are reviewed by one of our oncologists who may be located in a completely different place.
"It means the patient is able to stay at home for as long as possible, close to their family and friends, and their local care provider, who plays a vital role in supporting them through their cancer care treatment path.
"A cancer diagnosis is an incredibly stressful time for patients and we feel that anything we can do helps to alleviate that stress."
Icon Cancer Care is Australia's largest private provider of cancer care, managing more than 77,000 patient treatment visits each year through a network of more than 75 doctors. The organisation has over 350 staff operating across six day hospitals throughout Queensland and South Australia, with doctors also supporting private cancer care services in regional centres around the country.
Once the preparation and localisation work has been performed by both Icon Group and IBM, Reid expects to have pilots up and running by the end of the year.
Initially, the business and utilisation models will be developed out of head office in Brisbane. It will then be extended into pilot sites in regional areas, dependent somewhat on the oncologists who are most enthusiastic about being involved in the initial pilot, Reid explained.
While the organisation is starting in Australia, Reid said Icon Group already has plans to expand the use of Watson through South East Asia as well, where she said the demand for cancer care vastly outstrips the available resources on the ground.
Icon Group already has oncologists located in Singapore
Watson is currently used at more than 55 healthcare organisations globally and has been trained by oncologists at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre in New York, where it has been in residency since 2012.
Icon Group is one of nine new adopters of IBM Watson for Oncology. Others include Grupo Angeles in Mexico, Mãe de Deus in Brazil, Taipei Medical University in Taiwan, Daegu Catholic University Medical Center in South Korea, Keimyung University Dongsan Medical Center in South Korea, Pusan National University Hospital in South Korea, and Svet zdravia in Slovakia and Poland.