Health

5 amazing ways IBM Watson is transforming healthcare

By Kitty Knowles 29 November 2016
Beymax is a robot healthcare assistant in Big Hero 6.
Beymax (pictured) is a robot healthcare assistant in the 2014 film Big Hero 6.
Summary

IBM Watson: The doctor of the future will see you now.

It’s that time of year again where everyone’s immunity is running low. Icy ground makes it easier to slip and fall, and festive revellers are already filling up A&E.

But, behind the scenes, there’s a revolution happening across the world’s hospitals.

Staff at IBM Watson are using artificial intelligence to transform healthcare – from the moment you check-in, right through to your recovery at home.

Today, The Memo asks Watson Healthcare Executive Lead, Thomas Balkizas, to tell us five ways artificial intelligence is shaping our hospitals of the future…

1) You’ll be welcomed by a health bot

“In the future a patient could interact with our cognitive technology before they even speak to anyone at the hospital,” says Balkizas.

That means you could soon contact the NHS digitally, and be welcomed by a digital concierge.

“Our avatars can take information and tell you what you’re looking for: you could ask which way to A&E? Where can I find parking? Or who will I be meeting today?”

In fact, IBM Watson already has a digital concierge at the Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool which will soon guide child patients through what will happen during surgery.

“Hospitals can be intimidating places for young patients,” says Balkizas. “This not only improves the experience of the patient, but reduces the anxiety that can lead to missed appointments and additional costs.”

2) Your doctor will be better-informed

IBM Watson is a great example of how we can use technology to democratise knowledge.

“One of the key challenges in healthcare is the vast amount of information available,” says Balkizas.

“A clinical team can not know all the information that has been published between 2015-2016, but Watson can.”

It’s a solution that has even more impact for those with rare diseases.

“If you’re looking at a disease that is rare, you need to be subscribing to a number of publications and scouring the internet to find what’s essentially a needle in a haystack,” says Balkizas.

Watson however is able to search all the information, so doctors don’t having to spend thousands of hours reading and investigating.

It’s currently being used in genome analysis research at a hospital in the US where it found a third of patients were affected by information published in articles since their treatments began.

“Some had passed away sadly, but some were recalled and given new treatment, that had a major impact on their health,” says Balkizas.

Centre for Undiagnosed and Rare Diseases located at the University Hospital Marburg Pilots IBM Watson.
Centre for Undiagnosed and Rare Diseases located at the University Hospital Marburg Pilots IBM Watson.

3) You’ll be recommended better treatments

If, for example, you’re diagnosed with cancer, you might benefit from the platform, Watson for Oncology.

“Normally it’s up to a specialist doctor to meet with cancer patients, and to spend time reviewing their notes – which would arrive on paper format or in a string of emails,” says Balkizas.

“A doctor’s decision will be limited to their individual experience and the information available in front of them.”

However, now the Memorial Sloan Cancer Treatment Centre in New York is training IBM Watson to be able to quickly provide evidence based recommendations to time poor clinicians.

“It takes all those unstructured notes and restructures it in a way that the doctor can check easily, with treatment recommendations of which drug to give, which radiation or dosage,” says Balkizas. “It also advise what treatments are not suitable because of your your demographic, your patient history, and so on.”

IBM Watson doing Clinical Trial Matching at the Medical College of Wisconsin. Pic: IBM Watson.
IBM Watson doing Clinical Trial Matching at the Medical College of Wisconsin. Pic: IBM Watson.

4) You will be prescribed better medication

A very important aspect of IBM Watson is medication.

It normally takes about 12 years to produce a pill, but recent tests at the Baylor College of medicine in Houston, Texas, has reduced significant parts of the research process to weeks, months, and days.

“We’re able to accelerate the discovery of new treatment by streamlining research processes,” explains Balkizas.

“We can, for example, better match patients to clinical trials. We can also use Watson to repurpose drugs that have not produced the desired outcomes.|

As a patient, you will benefit from having more appropriate treatments available for you when you need it.

There are already IBM Watson-powered health apps for the Apple Watch.
There are already IBM Watson-powered health apps for the Apple Watch.

5) You’ll stay healthier when you return home from hospital

The IBM Watson Healthcare team think about care “as a continuum”.

“It’s not just about diagnosis or what happens in hospital,” says Balkizas. “Recovery straight from discharge is very important.”

Cognitive technology can not only help you follow your treatment plan, but it can make sure it’s the best plan for you at any given time.

“Watson can customise plans to ensure patients actually follow the advice,” explains Balkizas. “An adult might want formal instructions, but a 13-year-old might not want to be instructed in this way.”

Wearables can also be used to monitor the aftercare progress and notify both the patient and the hospital of potential problems with the recovery.

“We can see what’s normal or abnormal for your over the course of your treatment and act and intervene accordingly,” says Balkizas.

Don't worry, there's no Nurse Ratchet in IBM's pipelines. Pic: CC/Futurama.
Don't worry, there's no Nurse Ratchet in IBM's pipelines. Pic: CC/Futurama.

The big picture

It’s clear that IBM Watson is already making waves in healthcare already, but much progress still lies ahead.

“We’re just at the beginning of something that will be very big and very transformative over the next 50 years,” says Balkizas.

For Watson Healthcare, it’s about giving people hope.

“Healthcare is our moonshot, we want to improve it, make it more efficient, and richer,” says Balkizas.

“I’m extremely proud to be part of it, and excited by every minute.”