Watson for Oncology making debut in community hospital

Jupiter Medical Center in Florida is in the early phases of implementing the Watson for Oncology decision support system as IBM develops Watson Health products for specific disciplines.

The 367-bed delivery system is the first community hospital to adopt Watson for Oncology and hopes to have its first live patient supported by Watson in the next few weeks, says Abraham Schwarzberg, MD, chief of oncology. Initial developmental work on Watson for Oncology was done at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

Watson Health is a “learning machine” that is constantly being fed content from medical literature, electronic health record systems and many other sources. It can recognize if individuals are making progress with their care plans. For example, if a patient’s progress is insufficient, Watson can figure out the best way to engage the individual or develop a different care plan that may be more appropriate.

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Jupiter Medical wanted to get an early start with Watson Oncology because it is committed to help develop the tools and systems being provided to physicians so they can work at their highest levels and continue to improve their ability to deliver healthcare, Schwarzberg says. “This is the newest version of a tool that has a lot of power helping our physicians take care of patients.”

With implementation just starting, Schwarzberg can’t yet say much about the process except that it has a lot layers and definitely is not plug-and-play. Historical patient data covering encounters, tests, procedures and all other treatment-relevant information now is being entered into Watson for Oncology and checked for quality.

Patient data also will be fed in for every patient at each encounter after the system is live, enabling Watson to “learn” more about each patient each time they are seen. Breast, lung and OBGYN cancers will be the initial conditions treated with Watson decision support.

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For now, Schwarzberg is impressed with the power of Watson for Oncology and is working to understand its use, but until the hospital is live and has adjusted to using the technology, it’s hard to know, but he believes it will significantly change how healthcare is delivered.

Patients being treated with decision support from Watson will receive an explanation of the technology and why it is being used. For instance, Schwarzberg says, if Watson recommends the same course of action as the physician, that could be seen as a second opinion.

Patients will be told that Watson does not replace a physician or take away patient interaction. “It is a wonderful tool to really harness all of the data to make the very best decisions,” he adds. “It’s a partner.”

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