An Inside Look at IBM’s Watson Health

You probably saw IBM’s Watson on Jeopardy! a few years ago, but have you heard about the big splash it’s making in healthcare?

During yesterday’s “Empowering Consumers with Watson Health,” Suzanne Sawyer from IBM’s Watson Health filled attendees in on all the details. Speaking at the Healthcare Marketing & Physician Strategies Summit, Sawyer explained how Watson Health works.

“It’s not just a system that programs,” Sawyer says. “It’s a system that learns. We’re in an era of cognition and learning, so we developed Watson with that in mind.”

For example:

• Watson is a system that understands both structured systems (like columns and rows) and unstructured systems (like photos or notes)
• Watson can search data and bring back recommendations of treatment for doctors to review
• Watson is taught by leading experts…it collects data by being taught

For starters, Watson Health is focusing on oncology.

“If we could be successful with oncology, which is so complex, we knew we could move to other areas, like breast, lung, and colorectal cancer,” Sawyer says.

Sawyer explained how Watson Health can help doctors.

“Watson Health can be a trusted advisor, but you have to know what to do with the answers it gives you,” Sawyer says. “For example, Watson Health helps reduce the cognitive burden on doctors. We know doctors don’t have time to read thousands of medical journals, but Watson Health can. This gives the doctor more time to prepare and plan appointments with patients.”

Sawyer sees Watson Health as a “second opinion” that doctors can use, and at some point, people will be able to ask Watson Health questions directly. In addition, IBM is working with the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, and Apple on various projects for Watson Health.

“We want Watson Health to be a catalyst that improves lives and lower the cost of healthcare around the world,” Sawyer says.

By Jessica Levco, for Forum for Healthcare Strategists

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