IBM is forming a medical imaging collaborative that will leverage cognitive computing to extract insights from unstructured imaging data.

The collaborative, announced on Wednesday, will use the Watson Health platform as a basis, and already includes 16 health systems, academic medical centers, ambulatory radiology providers and imaging technology vendors.

Members of the collaborative see a wide array of possibilities for study, including breast, lung and other cancers; diabetes; eye health, brain disease; and heart disease and related conditions, such as stroke.

The initiative is the latest effort to build on the artificial intelligence capabilities of IBM Watson Health, further building the case for using advanced computing capabilities in healthcare. As work continues on bringing cognitive computing to imaging procedures, the initiative will give IBM Watson Health an opportunity to show the applicability of its technology in real-life settings.

By using computing power to analyze data-rich images, and combining it with data from other sources, participants in the collaborative want to use that intelligence to make personalized care decisions for specific patients. Beyond that, the members hope to gather data that will make the platform “smarter” and better able to bring benefits to treating broader patient populations.

Data that will combined with imaging studies could come from electronic health records; radiology and pathology reports; lab results; physicians’ progress notes; medical journals; clinical care guidelines and published outcomes studies.

Members of the collaborative include:

  • Academic medical centers: Eastern Virginia Medical School.
  • Ambulatory radiology providers: Radiology Associates of South Florida.
  • Providers: Anne Arundel Medical Center; Baptist Health South Florida; Sentara Healthcare; Sheridan Healthcare; UC San Diego Health; University of Miami Health System; University of Vermont Health Network.
  • Imaging companies: Agfa HealthCare; Hologic Inc.; ifa systems AG; inoveon; Topcon; vRad; and Merge Healthcare, an IBM company.

Initial plans include providing training on Watson and evaluating potential new offerings in a variety of patient care environments, ranging from stand-alone ambulatory settings to integrated health delivery networks. By doing so, the collaborative plans to gather data based on diverse real-world experience and to share findings to inform how the medical community might reduce operational and financial inefficiencies, improve physician workflows and adopt a patient-focused approach to improve care and outcomes.

Further, medical experts could determine how to integrate Watson into the existing health IT systems of the imaging technology companies in the collaborative. For example, integrating with electronic health records and picture archiving and communication systems (PACS) can help show how best to deliver cognitive insights to providers within existing clinical workflows.

“There is strong potential for systems like Watson to help to make radiologists more productive, diagnoses more accurate, decisions more sound, and costs more manageable,” said Nadim Michel Daher, a medical imaging and informatics analyst for Frost & Sullivan. “This is the type of collaborative initiative needed to produce the real-world evidence and examples to advance the field of medical imaging and address patient care needs across large and growing disease states.”

“With the ability to draw insights from massive volumes of integrated structured and unstructured data sources, cognitive computing could transform how clinicians diagnose, treat and monitor patients,” said Anne Le Grand, who recently joined IBM as vice president of Imaging for Watson Health. “Through the medical imaging collaborative, Watson may create opportunities for clinicians to extract greater insights and value from imaging data while better managing costs.”

“Healthcare systems are under enormous pressure to improve productivity, and the combined expertise of the members of the collaborative has the capability to harness the untapped power of technology to deliver the gains that have so far only been achieved in isolated use cases,” says James Jay, vice president of imaging IT and integrated care solutions at Agfa HealthCare. “Together we will look for ways to advance our customers' ability to leverage the analytics power of Watson united with our own Enterprise Imaging platform. We will be diving into specific use cases to turn the power of big data into real, tangible applications focused on specific improvements in either speed or accuracy of decisions.”

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