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Sunday, September 18, 2011

Veterans Health Care: Dr. Watson? How IBM system can improve diagnosis, treatment.


IBM’s revolutionary Watson technology now has its first commercial application. The implications of Watson’s technology for the commercial and government medical sectors was discussed at a press briefing in Washington D.C., on Sept. 13.
Watson’s ability to perform a variety of patient analytic services — such as referencing medical health records against known drug allergies — could dramatically change how doctors diagnose patients, Siegel said. The IBM system's deep question-and-answer capability, coupled with its analysis functions, allow it to serve as a doctors’ assistant by performing patient chart reviews, the process of suggesting potential courses of treatment, and citing related reports and documentation to back up its conclusions.

An area where Watson could readily be applied to is health care for the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments. Data is key to health care, and DOD and VA are currently working on efforts to share medical data, said Capt. Michael Weiner, the Navy’s chief medical information officer. The challenge for the government is how to use data to drive better care and lower costs, he said.
Government clinicians can now pull up a great deal of information from DOD and VA medical databases to provide uniform care. However, what if this information could also be used to prompt patients to take more active steps to avoid or treat diseases such as diabetes, Weiner said.

A capability like Watson could be useful to both clinicians and their patients. Clinicians would be able to call up patient records and use Watson to review individual health records and compare symptoms and potential drug interactions and other treatments. For patients, Watson could offer health care and dietary/lifestyle suggestions, he said.

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