Help Wanted: Computers and Healthcare

Today in 1972, IBM’s Data Processing Division launched the IBM Health Care Support Electrocardiogram Analysis program, a computer program for cardiologists. 

The Wall Street Journal, September 12, 2011: “Researchers have been trying since the 1970s to develop computers that can advise doctors, but the efforts haven’t gotten much traction. Now, though, the health industry is under unprecedented pressure to digitize. At the same time, medical providers are increasingly paid based at least partly on quality-of-care measures.”

Today, Mayo Clinic radiologists, with IBM’s help, developed algorithms that pinpoint potential problem areas within medical images and flag them based on the probability of abnormality. And IBM has big hopes for Watson, its

And tomorrow? The first IBM Watson deployment would come early next year with WellPoint nurses who manage complex patient cases and review treatment requests from medical providers. From the IBM press release: “For physicians, incorporating hundreds of thousands of articles into practice and applying them to patient care is a significant challenge. Watson can sift through an equivalent of about 1 million books or roughly 200 million pages of data, and analyze this information and provide precise responses in less than three seconds. Using this extraordinary capability WellPoint is expected to enable Watson to allow physicians to easily coordinate medical data programmed into Watson with specified patient factors, to help identify the most likely diagnosis and treatment options in complex cases. Watson is expected to serve as a powerful tool in the physician’s decision making process.”

For those worried about computers making decisions about their health, Dave Ferrucci, lead researcher for IBM’s Watson, at the Race Against the Machine Symposium: “We don’t expect the computer to make judgments, we expect it to help humans make judgments.”

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