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IBM supercomputer Watson takes on cancer

by Nancy Ryerson, Staff Writer | February 12, 2013
IBM Watson
Watson, the supercomputer system that famously beat out human Jeopardy contestants two years ago, is now lending its quick "thinking" and ability to understand regular human language to the health care sector. IBM worked with WellPoint and Memorial Sloan-Kettering to build up Watson's medical knowledge and develop the first commercial products based on the supercomputer.

One of the three products, Interactive Care Insights for Oncology, is a cloud-based application that brings more than 6,000,000 pieces of medical evidence and two million pages of medical journals and clinical oncology trials to bear on a patient's medical record in order to build an individualized patient program.

"The power of the technology is that it has the ability to take the information about a specific patient and match it to a huge knowledge base and history of treatment for similar patients," wrote a Memorial Sloan-Kettering thoracic Oncology Service chief on the hospital's OnCancer blog. "This process can help medical professionals gain important insights so that they can make more informed decisions, evidence-based decisions, about which treatment to follow."

The Maine Center for Cancer Medicine and WESTMED Medical Group are currently testing out the oncology program.

Two other Watson-based programs, WellPoint Interactive Care Guide and Interactive Care Reviewer, draw on 25,000 test case scenarios and 1,500 real-life cases to interpret medical data written in "human language" such as doctors' notes, patient records, medical annotations and clinical feedback.

Watson began processing common medical procedure requests for members in WellPoint-affiliated health plans in December 2012. Wellpoint believes more than 1,600 providers will be using the Watson-driven products by the end of 2013.

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