Is IBM's Watson, The Best Doctor In The World?

IBM’s movement toward artificial intelligence is staggering and is leading to amazing medical outcomes.

Many are convinced that it is already the world’s best diagnostician.

It easily stores far more medical information than doctors and makes decisions that are

  • evidence-based
  • free of cognitive haze and
  • are un-hindered by overconfidence.

A Game Changer

Human doctors can not hold all the information in their heads, or keep up with accelerating change. Dr. Watson knows it all and never overlooks or forgets anything.

Watson is accurate and consistent. But in the real world, inconsistency is a surprisingly large and common flaw among human medical professionals. Dr. Watson is also available and never annoyed, sick, nervous, hungover, upset, in the middle of a divorce, sleep-deprived, and so on.

It has very low marginal cost. It will be very expensive to build and train Dr. Watson, but once it’s up and running the cost of doing one more diagnosis with it is essentially zero, unless it orders tests.

Misdiagnosis

A recent US study estimated that as many as 5% of patients are misdiagnosed. That has significant consequences and is an area ripe for improvement and competition.

How it Works

A doctor can simply

  • describe symptoms
  • input other related factors
  • add test results

Dr. Watson then identifies the key pieces of information and mines the patient’s data to find relevant facts about family history, current medications and other existing conditions.

By combining this information with current findings from tests, Watson then forms and tests hypotheses by examining a variety of data sources (treatment guidelines, electronic medical record data and doctors’ and nurses’ notes, peer-reviewed research and clinical studies.)

From here, Watson can provide potential treatment options and its confidence rating for each suggestion.

Significant Impact

This technology is helping insurers like WellPoint to evaluate doctors’ treatment plans and is claiming that the system is already significantly better than human doctors at diagnosing lung cancer.

The Future is Near

The system is no match for the best human diagnosticians, whose versatility and agility is difficult to match. But Watson’s ability to learn, analyse, and apply knowledge suggests that it will get there soon.

As Dr. Watson gets better and better at diagnosis, many patients will want it as their primary care physician. That day may come sooner than we imagined.

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