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IBM's Watson Heads for Clinics, Spurring Debate

Scott Mace, for HealthLeaders Media, February 12, 2013

As a young emergency room physician, Martin Kohn, MD, thought he knew most everything. But once in a while, quiet whispers in his ear were the difference between success and a life-threatening medical decision error.

"What saved me and my patients more often than not were three nurses in that emergency department who had been there forever, and were very diplomatic. I could be sitting there struggling because we were doing stupid things like 24-hour shifts," Kohn says. "I'd be struggling with something and one of the nurses would come up and say, Marty, did you think about such and such?"

Now, Kohn is leading the team at IBM that will bring a technology-powered version of that little voice to clinics starting at the end of 2013.

"In some ways I view Watson as that friendly, helpful nurse who by experience knows these things, and just whispers quietly over your shoulder," Kohn says. "Nobody else has to see it."

In case you missed it on the TV game show Jeopardy, Watson is a set of massively parallel probabilistic algorithms able to break apart and parse natural language in different ways, and to suggest possible answers to questions.

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3 comments on "IBM's Watson Heads for Clinics, Spurring Debate"


bobstucco (2/18/2013 at 11:40 AM)
You're right about someone needing to do the hands-on evaluation, but with Watson, would that person still need to be a board-certified physician?

Jeff (2/16/2013 at 9:06 AM)
The phrase "thought he knew most everything" speaks volumes. Many physicians I know suffer from the cognitive bias of over-confidence, to the detriment of patients. Where Watson truly shines is in avoiding the cognitive biases that plague us humans.

J.Lord (2/14/2013 at 4:52 PM)
As a patient, I would welcome any technology that could diagnose and suggest treatment based on both historic and the most current data. No physician has the time to stay 100% current on all treatment options. We'll always need practitioners to do the human-to-human part of the exam [INVALID]'hands-on' and eye-to-eye feedback [INVALID] that machines will never replace.