The Veterans Health Administration on Monday awarded IBM a two-year $7 million contract to deploy its Watson technology to aid its doctors in caring for post-traumatic stress disorder patients. The contract is for a pilot project, with the potential of scaling up if it proves successful.
Officials from IBM and the VA emphasized that the technology's potential to accelerate clinician decisionmaking. Watson captured national notoriety in 2011 after appearing on the quiz show Jeopardy, beating human champions of the show. IBM touts it as a “cognitive computing system,” which means it can draw conclusions and hypothesize from data it's been fed rather than merely making calculations as other computers do.
“Physicians can save valuable time finding the right information needed to care for their patients with this sophisticated and advanced technology,” said Dr. Carolyn Clancy, VA interim undersecretary for health. By providing information more quickly than alternative systems, Watson will allow physicians to interact more with patients, she explained.
Anne Altman, general manager of IBM's US Federal and Government Industries unit, agreed. The “ultimate goal is to accelerate the decisionmaking of primary-care physicians,” she said.
The project will be based in Austin, Texas, where Watson is housed, and will focus on training Watson to perform its task. Watson requires its users to feed it relevant information, in this case, electronic health records and academic studies, before it can “learn” what information is likely to be helpful for clinicians in making decisions.
“The pilot stage is very important, we're really building the content,” Altman said. If successful, Altman thinks the project can scale from a locally based one to a resource for many more VA locations.
Watson also has worked on cancer research with MD Anderson in Houston.
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