February 22, 2011, 1:09 PM — While Watson certainly impressed the nation with its sweeping victory on the game show Jeopardy last week, the medical community -- which IBM hopes will be first to use the technology -- may eventually become even more impressed with its affordability.
After showcasing Watson's ability to ingest Jeopardy questions and spit out near real-time answers, IBM is now preparing the supercomputer for a full-time gig as a data analytics engine for the medical community.
IBM announced this week it is working with speech and imaging recognition software provider Nuance Communications to produce a system that can help physicians and other healthcare professionals cull through gigabytes or terabytes of patient healthcare information to determine how to best treat illnesses.
"Combining our analytics expertise with the experience and technology of Nuance, we can transform the way that healthcare professionals accomplish everyday tasks by enabling them to work smarter and more efficiently," said John E. Kelly III, senior vice president and director of IBM Research. "This initiative demonstrates how we plan to apply Watson's capabilities into new areas, such as healthcare with Nuance."
For example, a doctor treating a patient could use Watson's analytics technology, in conjunction with Nuance's voice and clinical language understanding software, to rapidly consider all the related texts, reference materials, prior cases, and latest knowledge in journals and medical literature. This could help medical professionals confidently determine the best options for diagnosis and treatment.
IBM is working with Dr. Eliot Siegel, professor and vice chairman of the University of Maryland School of Medicine's department of diagnostic radiology, to bring that Watson project to fruition in the healthcare industry.
Siegel told Computerworld that patient information tends to be written in free form by physicians, who use abbreviations and short-text explanations. So it could take well over 10 minutes to an hour for another physician, radiologist or specialist to understand the intricacies of a patient's malady.
Now multiply one person's medical record by the thousands that a hospital or medical group might have, and the difficulty in finding best practices from healthcare trends becomes even more daunting.