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Computer Will Be Dr. Watson, We Presume

February 21, 2011
Written by: , Filed in: Diagnostic Imaging, Practice Management
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Watson, the IBM computer that last week stomped two human champions on the TV quiz show Jeopardy!, may soon be Dr. Watson. IBM is working with the University of Maryland School of Medicine and Columbia University to develop a physician’s assistant version of the machine.

Eliot Siegel, MD, professor of diagnostic radiology and nuclear medicine, is leading the Maryland team.

Watson can sort almost instantaneously through vast databases to answer questions spoken in ordinary, everyday language.

In addition, Dr. Siegel said, “The system also has potential to ingest information from a single patient’s electronic medical record in one facility or potentially multiple facilities and also to acquire information from multiple patients. It then has the ability to form multiple hypotheses in a manner similar to the way in which it understands the Jeopardy! question and forms multiple hypotheses.”

As such, he said, it could be a powerful diagnostic tool. He added:

I see Watson’s capabilities, not as a replacement for physicians, but as an adjunct and tool to organize, highlight, and prioritize information to make a physician more efficient and effective, and improve patient safety.

Dr. Siegel directs the Maryland Imaging Research Technology Laboratory at the School of Medicine. He is also chief of radiology and nuclear medicine for the Veterans Affairs Maryland Healthcare System. He was quoted in a University of Maryland, Baltimore, news release.

Herbert Chase, MD, of Columbia University, sees Watson and its progeny as profoundly affecting health care, starting with training. “I have been in medical education for 40 years,” he said, “and we’re still a very memory-based curriculum. The power of Watson-like tools will cause us to reconsider what it is we want students to do.”

Dr. Chase is a professor of clinical medicine in biomedical informatics. He was quoted in a New York Times story.

Watson has already shown medical diagnostic ability. During Jeopardy! (which, as the show’s fans know, makes contestants respond in the form of a question), Watson was told: “You just need a nap. You don’t have this sleep disorder that can make sufferers nod off while standing up.”

Watson replied, correctly, “What is narcolepsy?”

Related seminar: Review for Practicing Radiologists

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