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Hackensack Meridian Health taps IBM Watson for help on cancer treatments

IBM Watson Health, Cota Healthcare and Hackensack Meridian Health are partnering to test clinical decision support in cancer treatment, a pilot that will draw on Cota's precision-medicine database and Watson Health's artificial intelligence-enabled evidence-based recommendations.

The project is the latest IBM Watson partnership that counts among its goals the shift toward value-based care. It will involve 10 oncologists and up to 500 patients at Hackensack (N.J.) Meridian Health.

Artificial intelligence is popping up more and more in hospitals, as clinicians seek to deliver care tailored not only to a condition but to a particular patient. The result, if successful, could be improved outcomes and fewer missteps.

The Watson element of the collaboration will present oncologists with ranked treatment options. Cota's software, which involves cancer cohort analysis of similar patients, will add meaning to clinical notes and reports, aiding in treatment planning by showing clinicians which treatments work best for similar patients.

In the second phase of the pilot, Watson's recommended care paths will include information about bundled payments; one of the goals of the pilot is to give clinicians resources for moving to value-based care, lowering costs while improving outcomes. "In today's environment and the shift toward bundled payment, care providers often need a combined view that helps them keep pace with not only the latest clinical evidence but also the value they can expect from a particular patient based on real-world evidence and patient similarity analytics," said Rob Merkel, IBM Watson general manager of oncology and genomics, in a statement.

Cota and IBM Watson came up with the idea for the pilot after Horizon Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Jersey—which has two executives on the Cota board—encouraged the two companies to meet. After the pilot ends in October, Hackensack Meridian Health hopes to bring the technology to its entire system.


Rachel Arndt covered the technology for Modern Healthcare. Her work has appeared in Popular Mechanics, Quartz, Fast Company, and elsewhere. She has MFAs in nonfiction and poetry from the University of Iowa and a bachelor’s degree from Brown.

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