IBM will incorporate Nuance CLU speech-recognition applications into the Watson supercomputer to provide information that assists doctors as they make diagnoses.
IBM will continue its longtime collaboration with speech-recognition
software developer Nuance Communications to bring the analytics capabilities of
supercomputer Watson into the health care field. Under a research agreement
announced Feb. 17, Nuance will feed its CLU (Clinical Language Understanding)
applications into IBM's Watson hardware.
Nuance makes the Dragon speech-recognition software.
Meanwhile, IBM will incorporate its own Deep Question Answering
(QA), Natural Language Processing and Machine Learning capabilities
into the supercomputer.
Combining the CLU language capabilities of Nuance in a supercomputer
such as Watson could lead to the next generation of EHRs (electronic
health records) and
decision-support applications, according to Dr. Eliot Siegel, director
Maryland Imaging Research Technologies Laboratory (MIRTL) at the UMD
School of Medicine. "We believe that this has the potential to usher in
a new era of computer-assisted personalized medicine into health care
to improve diagnostic
accuracy, efficiency and patient safety," Siegel said in a statement.
A commercial product will be available in 18 to 24 months, IBM and Nuance report.
Columbia University Medical Center and UMD (University of Maryland)
School of Medicine will contribute medical expertise that will enable
Watson to work effectively in
Watson, named after IBM founder Thomas J. Watson, is coming off a $1
million win on "Jeopardy."
Big Blue has donated the prize to
The supercomputer will be used to help doctors make diagnoses and analyze a vast amount of health care resources, including EHRs
and medical journals, in ways that doctors and nurses may not be able to.
"What it can do much faster than a person is collect that information, analyze it and use it as an additional resource this huge
array of health care literature or most-recent journals and provide feedback on
that information to the physician," Dr. Marty Cohn, associate director for IBM Healthcare Analytics, told eWEEK.
"Just as Watson collects information and understands
the questions on 'Jeopardy'-the subtlety of the puns-it looks at the
language, understands what it really means and can bring information
from the vast array
of health care literature that is relevant to the physician's and
patient's joint effort to come up with a proper diagnosis," Cohn said.
"I've been in health care in 45 years, and this is one of the most
exciting things I've come across, with the greatest potential,"
With Watson's ability to understand natural language and respond in
a humanlike manner, it will be able to understand patients' verbal
descriptions of their symptoms, such as chest pains or dropping blood
as well as collect medical data from EHRs, physician notes and family
history to help doctors make recommendations on a
patients' condition, Cohn explained.
Watson will also prove helpful in spotting potential drug
interactions and highlighting missing test results, according to IBM.
In addition, the
supercomputer can guard against the bias of a particular doctor's past
Information overload from all the resources available contributes to 15 percent of inaccurate diagnoses, according to Harvard
For Watson, however, the more data it's fed, the smarter it will
get, Janet Dillione, Nuance's executive vice president and general
of health care, told eWEEK. And the doctor or patient won't be aware of
the short time Watson takes to use the Nuance software to come up with
"The answer will be pushed to them," Dillione said.
Cohn noted that a timely answer is important to get physicians to adopt the supercomputing help. "If it takes them more time,
they're not going to use it," he said.
Watson won't replace doctors, just provide additional relevant information for them to make diagnoses in a timely
manner, Cohn stressed. In fact, Watson may not be used in emergency rooms, a setting where
time is life or death, he added.
"Watson has the potential to help doctors reduce the time needed to
evaluate and determine the correct diagnosis for a patient,"
Dr. Herbert Chase, professor of Clinical Medicine at Columbia
University College of Physicians and Surgeons, said in a statement.
Watson could help doctors
personalize treatment according to a patient's needs, Chase added.
The supercomputer's hardware encompasses 10 racks of IBM Power 750
servers (a total of about 90 individual server units) with 2880 Power7
which can run at 80 teraflops. The supercomputer also has 500G bps of
bandwidth, a 10GB Ethernet network, 15 terabytes of memory and 20TBs of
In October, IBM and Nuance announced a collaboration to incorporate
structured data into EHRs