'Dealing with the information overload': 3 questions with Dr. Anil Jain of IBM Watson Health
Artificial intelligence and cognitive computing are taking on a greater role in almost all industries, healthcare included.
Earlier this month, IBM Watson Health announced that its cognitive computing platform 'Watson for Oncology' is set to go live at Jupiter (Fla.) Medical Center at the beginning of March, marking the clinical decision support technology's first deployment at a U.S. community hospital. The technology has already ruffled feathers abroad — it's deployed at hospitals in India, South Korea and Thailand — with some medical experts voicing concern that the program may someday replace physicians.
Anil Jain, MD, vice president at IBM Watson Health, spoke with Becker's Hospital Review about the biggest challenges he has seen when integrating cognitive computing into healthcare, from the management of chronic conditions to population health.
Note: Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Question: What role do you think cognitive computing should take in healthcare?
Dr. Anil Jain: First and foremost, it's to improve the quality of the relationship between the caregiver and the patient. I think most clinicians would agree that they spend far too much time hunting and pecking for information, and they would rather spend more time interacting with the patient and helping him or her make the best choices for their health. Cognitive computing, in many ways, is a critical piece of dealing with the information overload that's happening in healthcare. There's just too much information for any one person to be able to get their hands around.
I think most [practicing clinicians] realize there is just way too much new information coming out — some good, some not so good — around what is the latest treatment and what are the latest therapies that one should consider. I think the only way to make sure we're doing the right thing, at the right time, for the right patient, in the right setting, is if we have some help. It's summarizing all the various information sources for me and personalizing it to the specific patient that I may be interacting with, so we have a complete picture about the patient and we're better able to make the appropriate decision. It's really providing a much higher degree of decision support to that particular provider.
Q: What do you see as the biggest areas for growth when integrating cognitive computing into healthcare?
AJ: We have to make sure we separate the myth from the reality of what it means to be in the cognitive space around healthcare. There's a lot of people that believe that cognitive computing is going to replace the physician, for example. It's really important that we put cognitive computing in the appropriate perspective. Just like the stethoscope didn't replace the cardiologist, cognitive computing is a way of augmenting the information and insights available to the clinician. It is assisting us at the point of care and the point of need, as opposed to somehow replacing the patient-doctor relationship or replacing the decision-making capacity of a physician.
Another challenge is that cognitive computing is really about being able to leverage vast amounts of data and sources of information. So, you need vast amounts of raw material, and that particular knowledge, in this particular phase of cognitive computing, is data knowledge. It's amassing that large collection of information, to start drawing out some of the patterns, inferences and reasoning that cognitive computing is going to allow us to accelerate. It's making sure that we have a good handle on the raw materials that powers the insights that come from cognitive computing.
Q: What other IT trends do you think are important for healthcare professionals to keep their eye on in 2017?
AJ: I think what we are going to see in 2017 — we've already seen glimpses of it in experiments here or there — is a significant emphasis on consumerism and really helping patients have democratized access to the medical information that's been curated by healthcare systems and groups like Watson Health. That's going to allow the consumer/patient to be in a much better position to partner with their provider to deliver health and wellness.
With mobile applications, with the healthcare Internet of Things, we'll have increased use of devices like wearables and sensors, and information that is being generated as our patients and consumers go about. It can trigger alerts and warnings to tell providers when patients are not doing so well, can predict events like hypoglycemia or heart disease or even monitor vital signs. I think that is going to be big in 2017.
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