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Not so elementary, my dear Watson

In just the last few hours, I’ve seen a huge wave of pushback and doubt about Watson, the IBM supercomputer, being used for clinical decision support.

Yesterday, I covered a “healthcare leadership exchange” at IBM’s new Healthcare Innovation Lab in downtown Chicago. I posted some of my observations on the EMR and HIPAA blog, and made the case for diagnostic decision support.

I also wrote a story for InformationWeek, but that hasn’t run. Instead of posting my story, InformationWeek healthcare editor Paul Cerrato wrote a column about Watson already being “beaten in the medical diagnostics race” by Isabel Healthcare, a diagnostic decision support tool that’s been available for years. I have to admit, he’s right. I first interviewed Isabel founder Jason Maude probably in 2002 or so, and I first blogged about the company in 2005. I mentioned Isabel in a 2007 post that, interestingly, also alluded to the work of Don Berwick and Larry Weed.

Cerrato mentioned Jerome Groopman’s 2007 book, “How Doctors Think,” which discussed, in part, how IT could help doctors avoid many types of cognitive errors. “[D]octors tend to lean toward diagnoses that are most available to them in their day-to-day routine,” Cerrato wrote (emphasis in original). That’s exactly what Weed has said for decades, and exactly what Atul Gawande talked about in his groundbreaking book, “Complications.” Computers should not make decisions for physicians, but rather should help them reach the right conclusions, particularly when they see rare cases.

Wouldn’t you know, “e-Patient” Dave deBronkart commented on my EMR and HIPAA post to say he just finished reading Groopman’s book. He tweeted a link to my post, which a few of his 6,500 other Twitter followers noticed. They also noticed EMR and HIPAA grand poobah John Lynn’s comment that the example in yesterday’s Watson demo, a 29-year-old pregnant woman being prescribed doxycyline was “pretty weak.” (He’s right, by the way.) Aurelia Cotta, who blogs about issues such as infertility and adoption, started this thread that also got South Carolina nurse Sunny Perkins Stokes interested:

@ @ @ I can see great uses for this, but I find it funny the example they give of doxy in pg is wrong.
@AureliaCotta
Aurelia Cotta
@ @ @ because it's still using the FDA's pg categories, which are 30 years out of date. GIGO anyone. Heh
@AureliaCotta
Aurelia Cotta
RT @: @ @ @ find it funny the example they give of doxy in pg is wrong.| How so?
@sunnystill
Sunny Perkins Stokes
@ @ @ sorry to reply late--but FDA is binary, and Motherisk is risk vs reward ratio. Critical difference
@AureliaCotta
Aurelia Cotta
@ @ @ doxy is an excellent drug, and cheap. Lyme disease can cause m/c + stillbirth. What if pt needs it?
@AureliaCotta
Aurelia Cotta
@ @ @ baby teeth that have a line on them as a remote chance, might be worth the risk to a pt with no $
@AureliaCotta
Aurelia Cotta
RT @: @ @ @ baby teeth might be worth the risk to a pt with no $ ?Amoxicillin not just as good?
@sunnystill
Sunny Perkins Stokes
@ @ @ maybe to you, but what if the pt is allergic? Or they've already tried amoxicillin, and it didn't work?
@AureliaCotta
Aurelia Cotta
@ @ @ context matters is all, and I just think any sources used should be good, not "lawyer endorsed"
@AureliaCotta
Aurelia Cotta

 

Well, there’s a reason why I call myself a “healthcare” reporter and not a “medical” reporter. I don’t know the science, and I do occasionally get myself in trouble when I start talking about things like whether doxycycline is contraindicated during pregnancy. (To my credit, I did attribute the statement to IBM’s chief medical scientist, Dr. Marty Kohn.)

As I was reading the above tweets and contemplating this blog post, I came across a link to some tongue-in-cheek pushback against Watson in healthcare. An anonymous radiologist who blogs about PACS as “Dr. Dalai” compared Watson to HAL, the diabolical mainframe in “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Dr. Dalai wrote: “Watch out, boys and girls, Watson is headed to a hospital near you, and he (it?) may challenge you as much as he did Ken Jennings.” Jennings, of course, is the Jeopardy! champion whom Watson beat earlier this year.

At first glance, I thought Dr. Dalai was yet another whiny physician clinging to the status quo. But he hit on the real issue: application of knowledge. Quoting from an interview with one of Watson’s programmers, Dr. Dalai noted that the supercomputer is being loaded with all kinds of medical reference material in preparation for “learning” human physiology and ultimately gathering experience in medicine. “This isn’t fair!  If I could just take a text book, stick it up my, ummmm, brain, and have it instantly memorized, I would be whiz, too!” he wrote.

Yeah, isn’t that the whole point of clinical decision support?

June 3, 2011 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

Bet on videoconferencing growth before PHR ubiquity

Last week, I reported in InformationWeek on a Manhattan Research study showing that 7 percent of U.S. physicians were chatting with patients via videoconference. What the research didn’t say is how many consultations actually take place by videoconferencing. My guess is that it’s minuscule, but virtual visits will soon become commonplace.

According to Australian online healthcare community eHealthSpace, technology vendor Siemens is forecasting that 20 percent of all medical consultations in Australia will take place online by 2020. Much of that growth will come from rural and remote areas of a vast country that’s full of remote, sparsely populated areas.

I find that much more believable than another Siemens prediction that 90 percent of Aussies will have a “personally controlled electronic healthcare record” (whatever that means) by 2020. I’m guessing that videoconferencing with doctors will boom long before there’s widespread adoption of any health record controlled by patients.

 

I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.