Kris said he prefers to use the word cancers, plural, when discussing cancer because the disease varies so much in the way it attacks individuals. "Doctors treating these illnesses know how different they are from person to person," he said. "We need better ways to help us understand the complexity and variation of these diseases to improve care and research."
He added that doctors need better guidelines on how to match treatments to patients, such as which chemotherapy options and which dosage and frequency to use for each individual.
"Oncologists learn ways to make these choices from their experience treating individual patients," Kris said. "That kind of wisdom is what the Memorial Sloan-Kettering team is adding to IBM Watson. Our hope is to share our experience and knowledge, and, enabled by Watson technology, help physicians around the world to understand and mine the subtleties of each person's illness. We believe this strategy can take us one step closer to the goal of personalized care for every person facing cancer treatment."
Memorial Sloan-Kettering has immersed Watson in the complexities of cancer and the explosion of genetic research that has set the stage for changing care practices for many cancer patients with highly specialized treatments based on their personal genetic tumor type.
"It can take years for the latest developments in oncology to reach all practice settings," said Craig B. Thompson, M.D., president of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, in a statement. "The combination of transformational technologies found in Watson with our cancer analytics and decision-making process has the potential to revolutionize the accessibility of information for the treatment of cancer in communities across the country and around the world. Ultimately, we expect this comprehensive, evidence-based approach will profoundly enhance cancer care by accelerating the dissemination of practice-changing research at an unprecedented pace."
The Maine Center for Cancer Medicine and WESTMED Medical Group are the first two early adopters of the capability. Their oncologists will begin testing the product and providing feedback to WellPoint, IBM and Memorial Sloan-Kettering to improve usability.
Meanwhile, in a WellPoint pilot project, Watson absorbed more than 25,000 test case scenarios and 1,500 real-life cases, and gained the ability to interpret the meaning and analyze queries in the context of complex medical data and human and natural language, including doctors notes, patient records, medical annotations and clinical feedback. In addition, more than 14,700 hours of hands-on training was spent by nurses who trained Watson. Watson continues to learn while on the job, much like a medical resident, while working with the WellPoint nurses who originally conducted its training.
Watson started processing common, medical procedure requests by providers for members in WellPoint-affiliated health plans in December, and was expanded to include five provider offices in the Midwest. Watson will serve as a tool to accelerate the review process between a patient's physician and their health plan.
"The health care industry must drive transformation through innovation, including harnessing the latest technology that will ultimately benefit the health care consumer," Lori Beer, WellPoint's executive vice president of Specialty Businesses and Information Technology, said in a statement. "We believe that WellPoint's data, knowledge and extensive provider network, combined with the IBM Watson technology and Memorial Sloan-Kettering's oncological expertise can drive this transformation."
"Delivering actionable advice at the point of medical decision making is the next frontier in analytics for health," said Scott Lundstrom, group vice president of IDC Health Insights. "Watson is an impressive and unique solution to this challenge, and I think we have just begun to scratch the surface of valuable and innovative improvements we can make by applying this technology to health care."
In the two years since it beat human opponents at "Jeopardy," Watson has gained a 240 percent improvement in system performance, reduced the system's physical requirements by 75 percent and can now be run on a single Power 750 server, IBM said.