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Q&A with Steve Tolle, IBM Watson Health Imaging's vice president of global business development and strategy

by John R. Fischer, Senior Reporter | January 02, 2018
Health IT RSNA

Our strategy differs by regions. So, in Europe, they have a slightly different problem to solve. They don’t have enough radiologists so we’re focused on helping them identify all normals. In the United States, we’re focused on peer-review, current read and addressing productivity for the radiologist. We like that we see this explosion of AI. We’re also aware there’s a bit of a hype cycle going on which is completely normal for any new technology. So, we’re now at a point where it’s real, it’s going to be used and it will be able to document the value. That’s when you’ve got a real industry, and we’re at that point.

HCB News: You mentioned that IBM has some concerns about claims it’s heard and about value proposition in regards to AI. Can you elaborate on the specifics of those concerns?

In a regulated medical device world, you’ve got to be very thoughtful about the claim you’re making that your device solves. You’ve got to prove it. You’ve got to take it through clinical trials. You have to make sure the FDA clears it or the European regulators clear it.

And so a lot of small venture claim companies and even researchers out there are making announcements, ‘Hey, we’ve built this thing, and it’s 83 percent accurate, and the human’s only 70 percent accurate.’ We just need to understand that it’s one thing to say that you can do that in a lab but prove it. That’s where the doctor starts to get nervous cause it's like saying, 'I invented a screwdriver and it’s 100 percent better than using your finger to turn a screw as a human.' You just need to think it through. What plan am I going to make? how am I proving it? what value does it provide to the doctor?

HCB News: When we think about the regular hospitals throughout the country, what is the biggest challenge in bringing AI to their patients?

ST: I think the number one challenge is going to be the 58 or 59 companies today doing AI imaging that are probably going to be 150 or 200 next year. The amount of venture capital going into this market is huge so if I’m the average community hospital or even a well-known or accomplished academic hospital, how am I possibly going to have 50 or 100 different vendors integrated into my viewer for my doctors to use? I think there’s going to be a consolidation that has to happen in the market. That level of technical complexity is going to be an issue for hospitals to deal with. That’s why IBM happens to have pretty good experience in our enterprise imaging business, our consulting businesses, our platforms that we built as a business. So, I think you’ll see IBM and a couple of other companies act as consolidators in the business.

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