One of my family members recently had a scare where she had pains in her abdomen and wasn’t feeling very well. This went on for a few weeks and she finally went to see a doctor. With a history of breast cancer, the doctor’s first reaction was to do a PET scan to determine if the cancer had spread into her abdomen. The PET scan cost almost $3000 and the results came back negative. There were no signs of cancer in the abdomen and other organs. As the doctor looked at the medications she was taking – he realized that she was taking thyroxin. He mentioned that her dosage was low and in some cases a low dose of thyroxin can cause abdominal pains. He then advised her to increase her dosage – and low and behold her pains went away. Now you can imagine how stressful it was waiting for the PET scan results, not to mention the stress of the $3000 bill – all for nothing! The doctor was only trying to be cautious and rule out worst case scenarios, however was that PET scan really necessary?
As my relative went through this – I could only imagine a future when doctors would use a system like Watson where they could input the medications, symptoms, etc. from observing the patient and a system would advise them potential diagnosis, as well as additional tests that could be given to determine the diagnosis and treatment plan.
I somehow felt that if Watson had been involved, Watson would have recommended adjusting the medication before even having a PET scan. This is the new world of analytics we live in… it is humanly impossible for a physician today to know every tiny bit of medical research and information available on any given topic. We are expecting doctors to be a master data repository which is impossible. Instead of asking a doctor to know everything they learned in medical school and keep up with current research, Watson will go out and mine through unstructured text and will come back with recommendations with confidence levels that the doctor can chose from. Using cognitive computing like Watson to help sift through all credible medical literature to provide decision support to doctors is something that will change the face of medicine forever.
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