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IBM’s Watson Envisions to Work as a Medical Tool

USA Today is reporting that IBM’s Watson computer system will be used to provide medical diagnoses to patients. Although, the company is still perhaps two years from marketing a medical Watson, and it says no prices have been established. But it envisions several uses, including a doctor simply speaking into a handheld device to get answers at a patient’s bedside.

While it’s not necessarily new to have a computer full of medical texts, IBM’s Watson plans to expand this concept by accumulating not only traditional medical information, but also data gathered from online sources such as blogs.

At a recent demonstration for The Associated Press, Watson was gradually given information about a fictional patient with an eye problem. As more clues were unveiled — blurred vision, family history of arthritis, Connecticut residence — Watson’s suggested diagnoses evolved from uveitis to Behcet’s disease to Lyme disease. It gave the final diagnosis a 73% confidence rating.

“You do get eye problems in Lyme disease but it’s not common,” Dr. Herbert Chase said. “You can’t fool Watson.”

According to Dr. Herbert Chase, a Columbia University medical school professor, sometimes there’s data that patients are providing on the Internet that aren’t in the medical journals or drug side effect notices. He relays an anecdote where he took the cholesterol drug Lipitor and was unable to sleep. Searching the Internet, he was able to find blogs that indicated insomnia was a side effect, despite it not being known at the time. By adding this information into Watson, he hopes to increase the computer’s agility in solving problems.

While a computer will probably never completely take the place of a doctor, the technology is getting much better and this’s an additional tool in a doctor’s arsenal. Watson has the ability to provide a list of several possibilities with the weighted probabilities of each, helping doctors help treat lesser-known conditions. As the article mentions, even if a doctor is 95% sure the right treatment is being offered, there’s still a one in twenty chance that it’s wrong and Watson will be able to help with that.

[Via: USA Today]

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