Although a call for Watson brings to mind Alexander Graham Bell’s first words on the telephone or Sherlock Holmes greeting to his physician companion, The New York Times heralded another Watson on its February 17, 2011, front page. The artificial intelligence computer system won on the game show Jeopardy! In the television program’s only computer versus machine match-up, Watson defeated Brad Rutter, the biggest all-time money winner, and Ken Jennings, the record holder for the longest championship streak. Watson had access to 200 million pages of structured and unstructured content, which consumed more than four terabytes of disk space.
This experience with Watson illuminates how artificial intelligence computer systems offer healthcare providers robust, evidence-based clinical decision support. In addition, it identifies the special role humans play in diagnosing and treating patients. If combined together, these capabilities can synergistically offer higher levels of valuable and effective care.
For information technology to play a valuable role in reducing healthcare costs while enhancing quality of care, it must be deployed in a way that completely reinvents how care is delivered, professionals provide the care, and technology is leveraged. Watson’s success on Jeopardy! demonstrates the capabilities of computers to store and retrieve medical knowledge at the point of care, thereby freeing clinician minds from the unnecessary burden of recalling facts. Clinicians are freed to focus on their patients while more effectively utilizing their ability to identify unusual patterns previously obscured by the “noise” inherent in a busy practice.
In 2011, progressive organizations will further the deployment of computer-based clinical decision support, rework the roles of all caregivers, and transform their processes to achieve ever-increasing levels of quality, safety, and efficiency of care delivery.
Excerpts from: Watson, come here. I need you. PSQH, May/June, 2011