IBM Promises To Read Your X-Rays With Billion Deal. Can It Really Do That?

IBM’s Watson is seen in the immersion room during an event at the company’s headquarters in New York in 2014. Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg

IBM continued its big push to use its Watson artificial intelligence technology to revolutionize medicine by buying Merge Healthcare, a $227 million (sales) company that helps doctors and hospitals store and analyze CAT scans, X-rays, and other medical images. The goal, literally, is for Watson to be able to see and analyze those scans, along with written medical records.

Amazing. But what proof do we have that Watson is up to the task?

Watson has the ability in medical imaging to understand whether it is looking at an X-ray, or a CAT scan versus an MRI. It has the ability to know it’s looking at a brain scan versus a heart scan,” says John Kelly, IBM’s senior vice president, research and solutions porfolio. “We are now absolutely convinced that Watson is capable of doing these things. What we lacked was the access to clients, and the images. What Merge brings us is that access and that capacity.”

If it works, it would be revolutionary. Right now, more than 90% of the data in healthcare comes from images, Kelly says, but these are mostly analyzed using the human eye. Being able to analyze those images using artificial intelligence, including making measurements of things like the thickness of the heart’s wall or a tell-tale break in a bone, and then to cross-reference those images with the text in medical records could reduce medical errors and help make sure patients get the right diagnosis, saving lives.

The deal is the latest in a series of big moves by IBM to make real Watson’s promise in healthcare. In April, Big Blue announced that it was buying Cleveland-based Explorys and Dallas-based Phytel and announced partnerships with Medtronic, Johnson & Johnson and Apple. Later that same month, it announced an effort with Apple and Japan Post, a giant insurance company, that would use Apple and IBM technology to try and improve the lives of thousands of senior citizens. In May, it entered the market for analyzing cancer genetics.

All of this is impressive. But what’s lacking for those of us outside the company or its partnerships is evidence that these efforts can work – and that IBM knows how to prove to health insurance companies that Watson is worth paying for. Will it be able to prove that patients whose records are analyzed using Watson are more likely to get a correct diagnosis? That health problems that are missed by conventional radiologists will be found by IBM’s computers? Healthcare is different. Vaporware doesn’t sell.

Right now, as with so much about Watson in healthcare, we have enticing questions, few answers, and lots of confidence from IBM. Kelly swears that, where necessary, he will get approval from the Food and Drug Administration, and that he will prove the usefulness of Watson’s software solutions disease by disease until doctors, hospitals, and insurers are all convinced.

“I don’t spend a billion dollars without having not only personal conviction but also some really smart people telling me, John, you’ve got it, this is the right thing,”  he says.

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Source: IBM Promises To Read Your X-Rays With Billion Deal. Can It Really Do That?

Via: Google Alerts for AI

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