Jeopardy!’s Watson Computer and Healthcare

Posted on May 25, 2011 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

I’m sure like many of you, I was completely intrigued by the demonstration of the Watson computer competing against the best Jeopardy! stars. It was amazing to watch not only how Watson was able to come up with the answer, but also how quickly it was able to reach the correct answer.

The hype at the IBM booth at HIMSS was really strong since it had been announced that healthcare was one of the first places that IBM wanted to work on implementing the “Watson” technology (read more about the Watson Technology in Healthcare in this AP article). Although, I found the most interesting conversation about Watson in the Nuance booth when I was talking to Dr. Nick Van Terheyden. The idea of combining the Watson technology with the voice recognition and natural language processing technologies that Nuance has available makes for a really compelling product offering.

One of the keys in the AP article above and was also mentioned by Dr. Nick from Nuance was that the Watson technology in healthcare would be applied differently than it was on Jeopardy!. In healthcare it wouldn’t try and make the decision and provide the correct answer for you. Instead, the Watson technology would be about providing you a number of possible answers and the likelihood of that answer possibly being the issue.

Some of this takes me back to Neil Versel’s posts about Clinical Decision Support and doctors resistance to CDS. There’s no doubt that the Watson technology is another form of Clinical Decision Support, but there’s little about the Watson technology which takes power away from the doctor’s decision making. It certainly could have an influence on a doctor’s ability to provide care, but that’s a great thing. Not that I want doctors constantly second guessing themselves. Not that I want doctors relying solely on the information that Watson or some other related technology provides. It’s like most clinical tools. When used properly, they can provide a great benefit to the doctor using them. When used improperly, it can lead to issues. However, it’s quite clear that Watson technology does little to take away from the decision making of doctors. In fact, I’d say it empowers doctors to do what they do better.

Personally I’m very excited to see technologies like Watson implemented in healthcare. Plus, I think we’re just at the beginning of what will be possible with this type of computing.