In 1911, when Thomas J. Watson, then a manager at the National Cash Register Company, coined the motto “THINK”, it is probably safe to say that he never dreamed that someday a cognitive machine would be named in his honor, and that machine would have the ability to almost think like a human being. A few years later, Watson, as chairman and the first CEO of International Business Machines, better known as IBM, brought the motto to this company, making THINK its trademark.
Recently at the 13th Annual World Health Care Congress, IBM and the American Cancer Society (ACS) announced their partnership to create the first virtual database advisor for cancer patients, survivors and caregivers. Once developed, this new component of IBM Watson cognitive computing will provide personalized support and access to ACS resources for individuals fighting the disease. IBM Watson represents a new era in computing. It has the ability to analyze large volumes of data, and process that data by understanding language, forming evidence-based hypotheses, and storing that knowledge as it proceeds.
In America alone, more than 1.6 million people are diagnosed with cancer each year. Part of the battle for each cancer patient includes the search for finding reliable trustworthy information that is applicable to their unique individual case. The internet has been a valuable resource for cancer patients for quite some time, but many web sites can prove to be confusing, inaccurate and misleading. It is IBM Watson’s quest to provide a solution to this problem.
What exactly does this mean for cancer patients? Gary M. Reedy, CEO of the American Cancer Society says, “We help patients everyday who seek information and insights to understand the disease and navigate their cancer journey. This partnership (with IBM) can take these efforts to the nextlevel by combining the depth and breadth of cancer information from the world’s most trusted cancer source with the power of cognitive technology from IBM Watson. It’s about providing the right information to the right people at the right time.” This HIPAA-enabled technology will be able to draw upon vast sources of data from the ACS and IBM, programming Watson to use this information to actually understand and anticipate each individual’s needs. IBM Watson’s Health Cloud is currently one of the world’s largest and most diverse collections of health-related data, while the ACS web site www.cancer.org already offers 14,000 pages of detailed information.
Still in its development phase, it is not completely clear what form this new advisor will take, but it is clear that IBM Watson will “think” and become even smarter as more and more people use it. It will be able to anticipate the needs of cancer patients at different stages of the disease throughout the different phases of their treatment. Here is an example: A woman with breast cancer might ask Watson about pain she is having. Watson could then advise her that slight pain may be normal, but that she should report any severe symptoms to her doctor. As her treatment progresses, Watson may recognize her need to attend a support group and recommend one nearby on a day that is convenient for her. It is this personalized specific information and support that will make IBM Watson a unique and valuable tool for cancer patients.
Long term plans include the integration of the new advisor with IBM’s existing Watson for Oncology, the clinical decision support tool for doctors. In partnership with Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and MD Anderson Cancer Center, Watson for Oncology currently provides clinicians with treatment options based on evidence-based data, analyzes the patient’s medical record, and identifies treatment options. All this is done while finding andproviding supporting evidence drawn from a vast array of resources amounting to more than 200 textbooks, 290 medical journals and 12 million pages of text.
The new advisor will also offer personalized guidance on ACS support programs such as Reach to Recovery, Road to Recovery, Look Good Feel Better and Hope Lodge. Reach to Recovery is a one on one support system that pairs breast cancer survivors with newly diagnosed patients. Road to Recovery is a support program providing transportation to treatment centers for cancer patients. Look Good Feel Better is a support program dedicated to helping cancer patients camouflage the cosmetic side effects of cancer treatments. Hope Lodge is the offering of a free place to stay for cancer patients and their caregivers when their best option for treatment may be located in a city a distance from their home.
Kyu Rhee, MD, MPP, chief health officer, IBM Watson Health says “IBM is honored to partner with the American Cancer Society and to apply Watson to help the Society deliver tailored education, support and services to the millions of people impacted by this disease. In doing so, we expand IBM’s existing commitment to tackling cancer, enhance Watson’s already formidable expertise in this domain, and support the American Cancer Society in its work to save and improve lives worldwide.” With these words, the future is bright in the fight against cancer.
In 1962, Thomas J. Watson, Jr. (the son of the first CEO), addressed a Columbia University audience, saying, “We believe an organization will stand out only if it is willing to take on seemingly impossible tasks. Those who set out to do what others say cannot be done are the ones who make the discoveries, produce the inventions, and move the world ahead.” With the combined efforts of IBM and the American Cancer Society, we can hope and believe in the seemingly impossible task of finding a cure.