IBM Research unveiled two new Watson-related cognitive technologies that are expected to help physicians make more informed and accurate decisions faster and to cull new insights from electronic medical records (EMR).
The projects known as "WatsonPaths" and "Watson EMR Assistant" are the result of a year-long research collaboration with fa culty, physicians and students at Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine of Case Western Reserve University. Both are key projects that will create technologies that can be leveraged by Watson to advance the technology in the domain of medicine.
• WatsonPaths explores a complex scenario and draws conclusions much like people do in real life. When presented with a medical case, WatsonPaths extracts statements based on the knowledge it has learned as a result of being trained by medical doctors and from medical literature.
WatsonPaths can use Watson's question-answering abilities to examine the scenario from many angles. The system w orks its way through chains of evidence -- pulling from reference materials, clinical guidelines and medical journals in real-time -- and draws inferences to support or refute a set of hypotheses. This ability to map medical evidence allows medical professionals to consider new factors that may help them to create additional differential diagnosis and treatment options.
Of course, Mayo Clinic's involved in many projects to improve medical treatments and healthcare in general.
One such project is the "strategic research alliance" Mayo Clinic formed in January with OptumHealth, a technology and consulting division of the Minnetonka, Minn.-based health insurer UnitedHealth Group.
Together they launched Optum Labs in Cambridge, Mass. Optum Labs CEO Paul Bleicher spoke about what they are doing at a conference this week.
Optum Labs will use claims and clinical data to answer pressing health questions. It will use a database that includes 149 million patient records from UNH, electronic medical records covering 5 million lives from Mayo Clinic, and 12 million electronic medical records from Humedica.
Speaking at the recent StrataRx conference in Boston, Optum Labs CEO Paul Bleicher, M.D., Ph.D., said Cambridge, Mass.-based Optum will use advanced analytics and data visualization techniques to support research and innovation projects that will improve patient care and lower cost.
The new partnership of Mayo Clinic and OptumHealth also represents a source of new opportunities for healthcare entrepreneurs, said Bleicher, who expects new health IT companies to emerge from this effort. "That is one of the goals," Bleicher said. "We want to develop technologies and innovations that could be spun off into companies, in collaboration with venture capitalists."
He said Optum Labs is actively seeking other partners and "accepting applications from anybody doing research who is willing to do so with complete transparency, in a non-commercial fashion." The mission is "very public, publication research that will advance the cause of healthcare and anyone who participates." Influencing healthcare policymakers is also one of the goals, he said.
Another priority of Optum Labs is enlisting "new partners who will bring additional data of high value," Bleicher said. "We want other payers - and everybody - to be in the tent, because if all of the data is in one place, there is opportunity to dive deep into it." It will also be important that "the findings don't stay stuck in 'silos' but are distributed widely, so they become valuable for more than just a few organizations."
The cost of some of the projects Optum Labs undertakes could be shared by National Institutes of Health grants or by partnering with life sciences or IT companies, Bleicher added.
Mark Hayward, administrator of Mayo Clinic's Center for the Science of Health Care Delivery, said there will be "information technology that will come out of our labs that will spin off new technologies and methodologies."