IBM Watson Health refutes media reports that its product is failing: 8 things to know

IBM said it is "setting the record straight" on its work with Watson Health after several recent media reports claimed the division's products recommend flawed advice and aren't based on real patient data.

Big Blue published a blog post by Senior Vice President of Cognitive Solutions and IBM Research John Kelly III, PhD, Aug. 11, the same day The Wall Street Journal published a scathing report outlining numerous issues with the artificial intelligence-powered decision support tool and detailing more than a dozen Watson Oncology-related projects IBM partners and clients have recently halted or shrunken.

Here are eight notes on IBM's Watson troubles and the company's response:

1. The WSJ report, which followed a slew of critical IBM Watson coverage from STAT, cited various anonymous sources, including former IBM employees and a hospital executive who was a former client, for its investigation.

2. However, Dr. Kelly refuted the WSJ article, saying it distorts and ignores facts by "suggesting IBM has not made 'enough' progress on bringing the benefits of AI to healthcare."

3. IBM has spent billions of dollars on Watson, but "the outlook looks gloomy," WSJ reports, adding that "no published research shows Watson improving patient outcomes."

4. The company's tools like Watson for Genomics have been piloted at multiple cancer centers, but physicians who've used them told WSJ the results weren't always accurate, or provided information oncologists already knew.

5. In response, IBM pointed to its work with cancer institutes like Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City and Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., which aims to refine Watson tools. Dr. Kelly specifically highlighted four studies with various oncology groups and cancer centers, writing "to suggest there has been no patient benefit is to ignore both what we know The Wall Street Journal was told by a number of physicians around the world and these institutions' own public comments."

6. Weeks prior, on Aug. 6, Watson Health General Manager Deborah DiSanzo penned a blog post responding to "certain media reports" — presumably from STAT as it chronicled the company's supposed layoffs, internal disorganization and flaws with Watson — that presented an "incomplete and inaccurate perspective" of Watson for Oncology.

7. Ms. DiSanzo wrote: "We are 100 percent focused on patient safety. It's important to remember this tool does not diagnose. It provides treatment options to physicians, supported by evidence. Ultimately the treatment decision is always up to the doctor and patient … While a recent media report created the misimpression a potentially harmful treatment was recommended to a doctor in the field, the option cited was actually part of internal testing being done to improve Watson for Oncology, not a real patient."

8. Despite the recent media reports, IBM is pressing on. "Our work is only getting started," Dr. Kelly wrote in his blog post. "We are steadfast in our purpose and committed to our partners and clients around the world as together we continue to move forward."

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