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Physicians at IBM Research help create a new vision for healthcare technology

IBM Research may be best known for its scientists who have created technology breakthroughs from moving atoms to analytics systems like IBM Watson. But what might surprise many is the number of deep subject matter experts now working side-by-side with computer scientists to redefine how industries apply technology to improve the services they offer.

The world’s healthcare systems, for example, are aging and increasingly complex. Despite amazing advances in medicine and patient care, the system is still plagued by misdiagnosis, misaligned incentives that increase cost, and lack of access to the latest information on patient medical history and treatment options.

Today, a team of medical doctors with more than a century of combined experience is working inside IBM Research with scientists from a variety of disciplines. They are examining ways to improve the healthcare system from all angles – from using data analytics for better-informed diagnoses to understanding why certain diseases flourish in some regions of the world but not others. Perhaps most importantly, they are helping researchers deepen their understanding of the industry, in order to apply technology more effectively.

From quiz show to clinical care

In the U.S. alone, it is estimated that up to 20 percent of diagnoses are either incorrect or incomplete. In addition, there are an estimated 1.5 million errors in the way medications are prescribed, delivered and taken in the U.S. every year.

These mistakes could be greatly reduced if doctors had access to the latest relevant medical information. But there is so much medical data in the world that it is impossible to keep track of it all.


80{ccf696850f4de51e8cea028aa388d2d2d2eef894571ad33a4aa3b26b43009887} of the World's data is unstructured


The MDs are now working with researchers to apply IBM Watson’s capabilities to answer natural language queries – which it first demonstrate by defeating the world’s best human contestants on the quiz show Jeopardy! – to search through tremendous amounts of both structured and unstructured medical data, from journals to CAT scans, to provide practitioners with vital information.

“Watson will leverage existing evidence in new ways,” said Josko Silobrcic, MD, Senior Medical Scientist at IBM Research, “and with natural language processing and machine learning, it may uncover new patterns that may not have been recognized before.”

Martin Kohn, MD, Chief Medical Scientist for Care Delivery Systems at IBM Research, is helping design Watson’s capabilities in a manner that best supports the way clinicians work. He said physicians tell him, “I’m looking for something to bring help to me when I need it, in a format that is useful.”

New models for healthcare

Medical information is doubling every 5 years, much of which is unstructuredThe doctors are also exploring ways to transform the healthcare system from a volume-based, fee-for-service payment model to an outcome-based payment model. Patients would no longer have to pay simply for the opportunity to receive treatment; rather, their payment would be determined by the outcome of the care they receive.

Another area of focus is in new models for caseload tracking. According to physician Katie Zhu, clinicians have so many patients to keep track of that while they should strive to increase each patient’s well-being, many end up just moving through patient examinations as quickly as possible. Zhu is working with researchers to develop automatic case management services which would make tracking easier, giving doctors more time to spend on treatment for their patients.

Another model shift is from treatment to prevention. This could have a major impact on the economy as well as the healthcare system, as preventable re-admissions account for roughly $17.4 billion in the U.S. Medicare budget.

Why IBM? In their own words

Martin Kohn, MD
My overall goal is to support the transformation of healthcare to achieve the goals of patient-centered, personalized health management that is safer, more efficient and provides better outcomes. At IBM Research, I have the ability to influence our view of, and strategy for, healthcare, and help develop the tools necessary to enable the healthcare of the future.

By joining IBM Research I am part of a global team that has the reach and power to support healthcare transformation, world-wide.

Katie (Xinxin) Zhu, MD
Over the past century, IBM has contributed tremendously to rapid advances in technology, and its superb capability in research will continue to impact many industries. Healthcare is no exception. Our healthcare system is facing a paradigm shift where the primary focus is now wellness maintenance through disease prevention and health promotion. IBM has engaged in building an interconnected, instrumented,and intelligent environment to help providers achieve better outcomes, payers improve operational effectiveness, and patients receive more coordinated care.

It is my privilege to join and work with world-class IBM researchers, and I hope by our efforts, we can continuously contribute to the transformation from ‘sick care’ to real healthcare.



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