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Cover Story Watson, I presume?

A doctor it’s not, but artifi cial-intelligence technology similar to that used by IBM’s Watson to win ‘Jeopardy!’ may make solving future healthcare data and diagnostic problems elementary.

By Joe Petro

Joe Petro is the senior vice president of engineering and research and development at Nuance Healthcare. For more on Nuance Healthcare: For more on IBM: www.rsleads. com/203ht-214

n 2011, we all witnessed the man vs. machine show- down when IBM’s computer, Watson, successfully outsmarted all-time “Jeopardy!” champions three nights in a row. While the application of Watson to a game show is entertaining, what’s really intriguing is imagin- ing how Watson-like technologies could be introduced in healthcare to extend the value of clinical information. According to IBM, “Watson’s ability to understand the meaning and context of human language, and rapidly process information to fi nd precise answers to complex questions, holds enormous potential to transform how computers help people accomplish tasks in business and their per- sonal lives. Watson will enable people to find specifi c answers to com- plex questions rapidly. The technology could be applied in areas such as


healthcare, for accurately diagnosing patients, to improve online self-service help desks, to provide tourists and citizens with specifi c information regarding cities, prompt customer support via phone and much more.”

Behind the scenes, Nuance Healthcare is putting Watson and other artifi cial-intelligence innovations into clinical boot camp, preparing them to participate in one of the most important jobs there is: saving lives. But before Watson can transition from quiz show to patient care, there will be an emergence of language-understanding technologies that are specially purposed to power Watson and better leverage medical data.

The next innovation

If the processing and mining of clinical information can be automated, information suddenly becomes much more valu- able. Copious blocks of text can unveil clinical facts that will auto-populate an electronic health record (EHR) template or prompt a physician for additional detail. By putting this kind of technology into the hands of physicians and healthcare or- ganizations, the adoption of EHRs, the achievement of mean-

8 March 2012

ingful use, the construction of an information repository for core measures and the unwieldy management of thousands of medical codes (for conversion to ICD-10) becomes achievable more eas- ily. With high-powered, clinical language-understanding tech- nologies, healthcare organiza- tions can abstract discrete data

The IBM Power 750, the same system that powers Watson, has been enhanced with several options, including a faster POWER7 processor to handle the most challenging analytics workloads.

from physicians’ narratives, free-text reports and other data sources in real time, while the patient is still in the hospital. This data-driven technology will make information access not only better, but automated and part of the care process. Imagine the value of technology that could prompt for additional information as a doctor is speaking; a solution that

Photo courtesy IBM


Photo courtesy IBM

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