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IBM’s Watson Sees Its First Patients

Watson, IBM’s flagship supercomputer, is now officially in the health care business. Forbes reports that the company has reached an agreement with Memorial Sloan-Kettering and WellPoint to allow their health care providers to use Watson’s vast analytical powers to help make treatment decisions.

Dr. Watson will analyze patients and give doctors several treatment options ranked according to probability as well as the reasoning behind the ranking. The results of this diagnostic work could be game-changing:

WellPoint’s chief medical officer Samuel Nussbaum said at the press event today that health care pros make accurate treatment decisions in lung cancer cases only 50% of the time (a shocker to me). Watson, since being trained in this medical specialty, can make accurate decisions 90% of the time…. The best part is the potential for distributing the intelligence anywhere via the cloud, right at the point of care. This could be the most powerful tool we’ve seen to date for improving care and lowering everyone’s costs via standardization and reduced error.

This kind of technology has the potential to be even more revolutionary than Nussbaum suggests. Consider the fact that IBM has already reduced the Watson system from the size of a bedroom to that of a pizza box. In coming years, the system and others like it will get smaller and cheaper still, until they reach the point that average citizens will be able not only to afford them but carry them around on their persons, like iPhones and iPads today.

With our very own Dr. Watson on call, we will have direct access to incredible stores of medical knowledge and practical experience, without all the intervening layers of the health care bureaucracy. This won’t mean we won’t need doctors, nurses, and other trained medical professionals, of course. But it will make us better, wiser, and more efficient health care consumers.

Dr. Watson’s children have the power to make tomorrow’s health care much better than anything we know today.

[Image source: IBM.]

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