Cleveland Clinic taps IBM's Watson for med school

The Supercomputer known as Watson will help medical students at Cleveland Clinic to analyze medical problems and develop evidence-based solutions.

The IBM natural language processor, meanwhile, will be building its base of medical knowledge and improving its Deep Question Answering Technology, making it a more valuable partner to future physicians, according to an announcement from IBM. Another goal will be using Watson to process an electronic medical record "based on a deep semantic understanding of the content within an EMR," the computer-maker says.

You might remember Watson as the computer that beat two Jeopardy! champions last year, sorting through its reams of knowledge to respond to oral questions from host Alex Trebek. Watson wasn't perfect: It responded "Toronto" to a Final Jeopardy! question about U.S. cities with airports named after World War II heroes.

Much as Watson probably now knows the correct answer to the airport question, it will similarly "learn" to improve its ability to provide clinical assistance through the Cleveland Clinic partnership.

"Students will help improve Watson's language and domain analysis capabilities by judging the evidence it provides and analyzing its answers within the domain of medicine," IBM says. "Through engagement with this education tool and Watson, medical students and Watson will benefit from each other's strengths and expertise to both learn and improve their collaborative performance."

Watson "will be there to help us make sure that we're not missing possibilities, that we're doing a more complete search and presenting it in an easy-to-understand manner," Dr. Neil Mehta, leader of the Watson project for the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine of Case Western Reserve University, told the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Mehta says questions and feedback from students will help programmers refine the computer's algorithms and give Watson more confidence in its answers, according to the newspaper report. "He's going to say, 'Oh, this is how humans think.'"

IBM announced Watson's first foray into the healthcare arena In February 2011, just a week or so after the computer's big Jeopardy! win. Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM and Nuance Communications Inc. of Burlington, Mass., announced a research agreement to commercialize Watson's advanced analytics for healthcare. Nuance brought its speech-recognition and Clinical Language Understanding expertise to the partnership, the companies said at the time.

Columbia University Medical Center and the University of Maryland School of Medicine joined to identify areas where Watson's technology could most help clinicians, IBM said.

In September 2011, WellPoint announced it would begin clinical trials this year in which Watson would help physicians diagnose patients and recommend possible treatments.

This March, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and IBM said they would collaborate to develop a Watson-enabled clinical decision support tool for cancer diagnoses and treatment recommendations.

To learn more:
- here's the IBM Cleveland Clinic announcement
- read the Plain Dealer article
- see the IBM-Nuance Communications announcement