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IBM Watson Continues Cognitive Computing Push for Genomic Medicine, EMRs

May 5, 2015
by Rajiv Leventhal
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IBM Watson Health made two announcements on May 5 to advance the use of cognitive computing for both genomic medicine and enabling electronic medical records (EMRs) to tap the power of IBM Watson.

First, Watson Health, IBM’s new business unit, announced that it is collaborating with more than a dozen major cancer institutions to accelerate the ability of clinicians to identify and personalize treatment options for their patients. The institutes will apply Watson's advanced cognitive capabilities, with the aim to reduce from weeks to minutes the ability to translate DNA insights, understand a person’s genetic profile and gather relevant information from medical literature to personalize treatment options, officials say.

As participating institutions use Watson to assist clinicians in identifying cancer-causing mutations, Watson’s rationale and insights will continually improve, providing the latest combined wisdom of the cancer institutions for oncologists, according to IBM officials. Specifically, Watson completes the genetic material and medical literature review process in only a few minutes, producing a report and data visualization of the patient’s case, and evidence-based insights on potential drugs that may be relevant to an individual patient’s unique DNA profile identified in the medical literature. The clinician can then evaluate the evidence to determine whether a targeted therapy may be more effective than standard care for the patient. In the initial phase of the program, participating organizations will apply Watson to the DNA data of patients who are battling all types of cancer, including lymphoma, melanoma, pancreatic, ovarian, brain, lung, breast and colorectal cancer.  

Also announced today, IBM and the Verona, Wis.-based Epic  Systems are collaborating with Mayo Clinic to bring EMRs together with the cognitive computing capabilities of Watson.  They are working on a proof of concept focused on helping match patients to the most relevant clinical trials for their individual conditions.

Epic is extracting patient data from health records, delivering it to Watson to be quickly compared with massive volumes of relevant clinical data, and then sending results back into the Epic EHR. For patients, this potentially means more rapid and thorough analysis of all the factors that could impact their care drawing from insights far beyond the information contained in medical records alone, say IBM officials.

Epic plans to embed Watson’s cognitive computing capabilities into its decision support offerings through the use of open standards, including Health Level -7 (HL7) Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). Connecting through Epic’s open API, the two systems will aim to extend clinician expertise and help caregivers access knowledge more quickly.  

“Accessing Watson’s virtual brainpower from the Epic platform is energizing from a creative standpoint,” said Epic president, Carl Dvorak. “We are bringing another level of cognitive computing and augmented intelligence to mainstream healthcare, to improve safety and outcomes for patients globally.”

IBM and Mayo Clinic are already working together for cognitive computing in clinical trials matching for cancer patients. Watson’s abilities allow physicians to enroll patients more quickly in the clinical trials that best meet individual patient needs. Over one million patients are seen at Mayo Clinic each year and more than 1,000 clinical trials are available to match patients to at any given time.

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