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IBM's Watson gets to work transforming care of cancer patients

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   April 2, 2013

Mark Kris, M.D., chief of Thoracic Oncology, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (left), and Manoj Saxena, IBM general manager, Watson Solutions, work with the first Watson-based cognitive computing solution for oncology. (Image: IBM)

WellPoint and Memorial Sloan-Kettering train the IBM super computing system in oncology and utilization management.

IBM, WellPoint and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center recently unveiled the first commercially developed Watson-based cognitive computing breakthroughs. These innovations aim to transform the quality and speed of care delivered to patients through individualized, evidence-based medicine.

The IBM Watson system gained fame by beating human contestants on the television quiz show “Jeopardy!” almost two years ago. Since that time, Watson has evolved from a first-of-a-kind system experiment to a commercially available cognitive computing system. The system has gained a 240 percent improvement in performance and undergone a 75 percent reduction in physical requirements since its debut. It can now run on a single Power 750 server. The transformational technology, named after IBM founder Thomas J. Watson, was developed in IBM’s Research Labs.

Watson helps tackle many facets of cancer care

The American Cancer Society projects that 1.6 million new cancer cases will be diagnosed in the U.S. this year alone. Studies suggest that the complexities associated with healthcare have caused one in five healthcare patients to receive a wrong or incomplete diagnosis. These statistics, coupled with a data explosion of medical information that is doubling every five years, represent an unprecedented opportunity for the healthcare industry and next-generation cognitive computing systems to combine forces in new ways to improve how medicine is taught, practiced and paid for.

For more than a year, IBM has partnered separately with WellPoint and Memorial Sloan-Kettering to train Watson in the areas of oncology and utilization management. During this time, clinicians and technology experts spent thousands of hours “teaching” Watson how to process, analyze and interpret the meaning of complex clinical information using natural language processing, all with the goal of helping to improve healthcare quality and efficiency.

To date, Watson has ingested more than 600,000 pieces of medical evidence and 2 million pages of text from 42 medical journals and clinical trials in the area of oncology research. The system has the power to sift through 1.5 million patient records representing decades of cancer treatment history, such as medical records and patient outcomes, and provide to physicians evidence-based treatment options – all in a matter of seconds.

Memorial Sloan-Kettering has immersed Watson in the complexities of cancer and the explosion of genetic research that has set the stage for changing care practices for many cancer patients with highly specialized treatments based on their personal genetic tumor type.

Starting with 1,500 lung cancer cases, Memorial Sloan-Kettering clinicians and analysts are training Watson to extract and interpret physician notes, lab results and clinical research, while sharing its learned expertise and experiences in the treatment of hundreds of thousands of patients with cancer.

“It can take years for the latest developments in oncology to reach all practice settings. The combination of transformational technologies found in Watson with our cancer analytics and decision-making process has the potential to revolutionize the accessibility of information for the treatment of cancer in communities across the country and around the world,” says Craig B.Thompson, M.D., president of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. “Ultimately, we expect this comprehensive, evidence-based approach will profoundly enhance cancer care by accelerating the dissemination of practice-changing research at an unprecedented pace.”

The Maine Center for Cancer Medicine and WESTMED Medical Group are the first two early adopters of the capability. Their oncologists will begin testing the product and providing feedback to WellPoint, IBM and Memorial Sloan-Kettering to improve usability.

Speeding utilization management to improve patient care

Throughout WellPoint’s utilization management pilot, Watson absorbed more than 25,000 test case scenarios and 1,500 real-life cases, and gained the ability to interpret the meaning and analyze queries in the context of complex medical data and human and natural language, including doctors’ notes, patient records, medical annotations and clinical feedback. In addition, nurses spent more than 14,700 hours meticulously training Watson. Watson continues to learn while on the job, much like a medical resident, while working with the WellPoint nurses who originally conducted its training.

Watson started processing common medical procedure requests by providers for members in WellPoint-affiliated health plans last December, and was expanded to include five provider offices in the Midwest. Now Watson will serve as a powerful tool to accelerate the review process between a patient's physician and the patient’s health plan.

Watson-powered health innovations

As a result, IBM, Memorial Sloan-Kettering and WellPoint are introducing the first commercial products based on Watson. These innovations represent a breakthrough in how medical professionals can apply advances in analytics and natural language processing to Big Data, combined with the clinical knowledge base, including genomic data, in order to create evidence-based decision-support systems. These Watson-based systems are designed to assist doctors, researchers, medical centers and insurance carriers – and ultimately enhance the quality and speed of care.

The new products include:

  • The Interactive Care Insights for Oncology (powered by Watson, in collaboration with IBM, Memorial Sloan-Kettering and WellPoint), a first of-its-kind Watson-based advisor, available through the cloud, that is expected to assist medical professionals and researchers by helping to identify individualized treatment options for patients with cancer.
  • The WellPoint Interactive Care Guide and Interactive Care Reviewer (powered by Watson, designed for utilization management in collaboration with WellPoint and IBM), which delivers the first Watson-based cognitive computing system anticipated to streamline the review processes between a patient's physician and the patient’s health plan, potentially speeding approvals from utilization management professionals, reducing waste and helping ensure evidence-based care is provided.

 For more information on IBM Watson, please visit www.ibmwatson.com.

 Source: IBM


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