Watson Health

“Augmented Intelligence” Principles for the Cognitive Era in Healthcare

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It happens every day, in many cases without us even realizing it. Artificial intelligence is everywhere. It tracks our personal “data,” like the music we listen to and provides recommendations for similar songs and artists, it sees what groceries we shop for and recommends recipes, similar to those we’ve liked before.

In many ways, AI helps make our increasingly busy lives become more automated and efficient, when it comes to the simple things in life like music or shopping, but when it comes to critical areas like the health, we may not be as comfortable taking recommendations from something that we cannot see, speak to, or know how those recommendations were validated medically.

At the same time, the health industry is facing challenges coming from the deluge of data that is out there, while at the same time facing a growing aging population[1], a rise in chronic disease[2] and increasingly a shortage of clinicians and physicians to care for patients[3].

IBM has been on the cutting edge of AI, and more specifically cognitive technology and we believe AI, or “augmented intelligence” is the way forward in what will be the Cognitive Era in healthcare. AI has the potential to change healthcare delivery, accelerate medical breakthroughs, increase efficiencies, and help lower costs.

IBM established principals for AI in healthcare intended to guide us on this journey – the healthcare moonshot – to ensure the incredible opportunity we have with cognitive technology is implemented in a way that has the most benefit and impact.

Purpose: Healthcare is about people and relationships. As a doctor, I can attest there is no greater privilege than someone trusting you with their physical and mental health, their hopes and their fears. In healthcare, our vision is for the technology to augment and improve relationships. It connects the dots, between doctor and patients, other family members and care givers who can all work together to keep people healthy.

IBM recently partnered with the Central New York Care Collaborative to leverage Watson Care Manager to coordinate care for the aging population of the region. Technology allows an individual’s doctor, pharmacist, or therapist to seamlessly see relevant and holistic information about the patient and to interact, as needed, to help them lead a healthier life. For example, missed appointments could lead to transportation services being arranged to enable follow up care, or a recent illness or fall could result in the scheduling of a “meals on wheels” delivery.

Transparency: People want transparency in everything we buy today and that includes healthcare[4]. Value based care models are increasingly being used to create more transparency about costs and show value. Data also has a role to play here. Patients and clinicians need to understand the basis for insights from data, and the evidence that supports cognitive capabilities. By giving healthcare stakeholders greater control over their data, cognitive systems can empower consumers and physicians to make better decisions.

IBM seeks to be the “Geneva” of data and transparency. We are researching with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration how to develop a framework to use blockchain technology in the healthcare industry. Blockchain has great potential to give patients control of their data, which in turn they could choose to share that data- with researchers, life science companies, etc. for the betterment of healthcare overall. Much like organ donation, we envision health data donation could be a philanthropic endeavor that people choose to share their unique attributes to help others.

Skills: We know one organization can’t do this alone. We are collaborating with more than 85 organizations around the world to use data and cognitive technologies to combat some of the world’s most pressing health challenges. At Watson Health, we have 55 physicians on staff and nearly 200 healthcare professionals who know the industry and can help train people to use these systems effectively. Our partners also help us leverage the data to gather evidence to validate these systems are delivering impact.

We have an awesome opportunity to use technology to help improve health and healthcare for all. Guiding principles for using AI allow us to bring the power of cognitive to the world in a way that is consistent with our values of safety and efficacy.


[1] https://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2014/cb14-84.html

[2] http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Harvard_HE_GlobalEconomicBurdenNonCommunicableDiseases_2011.pdf

[3] https://www.aamc.org/newsroom/newsreleases/458074/2016_workforce_projections_04052016.html

[4] https://www.healthcatalyst.com/success_stories/transparency-in-healthcare

Former Vice President, IBM Watson Health, and Chief Health Officer

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