Watson vs. Siri: A tale of David and Goliath?

Will IBM's Watson or Apple's Siri do more to transform healthcare? Robert Pearl, M.D., in a post at Forbes, says it's important to consider the strengths and weaknesses of each, relating it to the theme of Malcolm Gladwell's new book, "David and Goliath."

It's easy to assume Watson would win, he says, but the biblical tale reminds us to consider all the conditions.

Big data and processing speed are Watson's forte. It can sift through the nearly one million new medical journal articles published annually. Researchers at the Cleveland Clinic and Lerner College of Medicine of Case Western Reserve University applied the technology to a new tool called WatsonPaths that pulls from reference materials, clinical guidelines and medical journals in real time, analyzing a situation from multiple angles. Doctors can see the logic it applied and what inferences it made in arriving at a recommendation.

"Watson's true and unique value will be providing the probability of a specific diagnosis or treatment when there is no definitive answer--a calculation humans find difficult," Pearl writes.

Siri, on the other hand, is small and mobile. It would be the right choice to use when the patient's diagnosis is relatively clear and the treatment options clearly defined, he says. Its real strength is making sure providers don't forget any important steps in treatment.

Watson would be the choice amid ambiguity by users. When a patient comes to the emergency room with unusual systems, the doctor could ask it to look up the previous 1,000 cases involving those symptoms. It would help physicians and patients better calculate the diagnostic and therapeutic probabilities and make more informed decisions.

Ultimately, Pearl argues that though neither is widely used so far, the two would be better together, putting the strengths of each to its best use.

The Cleveland Clinic's two new uses for Watson--the second, Watson EMR Assistant, combs through EHR data to inform patient care--are part of its effort to improve medical training.

Though not specifically related to Siri, a recent HIMSS Analytics report called speech recognition one of the technologies to watch.

To learn more:
- find the Forbes post