IBM Watson delves deeper into health: 6 initiatives to watch
Back in April, IBM Watson took a step deeper into the world of health care with the formation of a new business unit: Watson Health. The tech giant additionally introduced a new cloud offering called the Watson Health Cloud, partnering with companies such as Apple, Johnson and Johnson and Medtronic.
Involved in the health care industry since the Watson technology was first introduced on the popular T.V. show Jeopardy! and deployed in the oncology department at Memorial Sloan Kettering in 2013, IBM has since been expanding upon its health care initiatives.
Recently, the company held a World of Watson symposium in New York City where they outlined a number of their upcoming projects and partnerships.
1. IBM will collaborate with more than a dozen cancer institutes.
Seeing as how this was IBM’s first entrance into health care, it makes sense for them to expand upon it. IBM is planning to help the institutes derive personal insights from cancer patients’ DNA, reducing the traditional process from weeks to minutes.
“Determining the right drug combination for an advanced cancer patient is alarmingly difficult, requiring a complex analysis of different sources of big data that integrates rapidly emerging clinical trial information with personalized gene sequencing,” Dr. Norman Sharpless, director of the University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, said in a statement. “We are partnering with IBM in an effort to solve this decision problem with the help of cognitive technology and to improve the decisions we make with our patients to maximize their chance for cure.”
In addition to the University of North Carolina, initial partners in the trial include Ann & Robert H Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, BC Cancer Agency, City of Hope, Cleveland Clinic, Duke Cancer Institute, Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center in Omaha, Nebraska, McDonnell Genome Institute at Washington University in St. Louis, New York Genome Center, Sanford Health, University of Kansas Cancer Center, University of Southern California Center for Applied Molecular Medicine,University of Washington Medical Center, and Yale Cancer Center.
2. Talkspace will use Watson to help match patients with therapists.
The text message-based therapy startup Talkspace will use IBM’s Watson to analyze customers’ text messages and attempt to draw insights about their personality that will help match them to the best possible therapist on the platform.
3. IBM Watson partners with Mayo Clinic and Epic.
Watson’s cognitive computing platform will integrate with Epic’s EHR, allowing doctors to use Watson for clinical decision support in the way that some cancer centers already do. The technology could help “develop patient treatment protocols, personalize patient management for chronic conditions, and intelligently assist doctors and nurses by providing relevant evidence from the worldwide body of medical knowledge, putting new insight into the hands of clinical staff,” IBM wrote in a release.
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“Accessing Watson’s virtual brainpower from the Epic platform is energizing from a creative standpoint,” Epic president Carl Dvorak said in a statement. “We are bringing another level of cognitive computing and augmented intelligence to mainstream healthcare, to improve safety and outcomes for patients globally.”
4. Colorado health system Centura Health adopts Cafewell Concierge.
Watson and Welltok produced Cafewell Concierge—an app that helps patients with questions about daily health management, cardiac rehabilitation exercises and activities, finding healthy recipes and dishes at local restaurants, educate them about their condition, and connect them to patient social networks. The app will be rolled out at the Centura Health Heart and Vascular Network, making it the first provider group to offer the app.
5. hc1.com to improve patient engagement by working with Watson.
The Patient Insights app offered by hc1.com and powered by Watson “analyzes patient interactions to tailor future engagement based on personality insights,” according to an IBM press release. Eskenazi Health in Indianapolis is already trying out the app.
6. LifeLearn to apply Watson to veterinary medicine.
A new Watson-powered mobile app, Sofie, will help veterinarians identify potential conditions and practice evidence-based medicine in the treatment of animals. The Aberdeen Veterinary Clinic is using the software.
How UiPath robots are helping with the NHS backlog
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many hospitals to have logistical nightmares, as backlogs of surgeries built up as a result of cancellations. The BMJ has estimated it will take the UK's National Health Service (NHS) a year and a half to recover.
However software robots can help, by automating computer-based processes such as replenishing inventory, managing patient bookings, and digitising patient files. Mark O’Connor, Public Sector Director for Ireland at UiPath, tells us how they deployed robots at Mater Hospital in Dublin, saving clinicians valuable time.
When Did Mater Hospital implement the software robots - was it specifically to address the challenges of the pandemic?
The need for automation at Mater Hospital pre-existed the pandemic but it was the onset of COVID-19 that got the team to turn to the technology and start introducing software robots into the workflow of doctors and nurses.
The pandemic placed an increased administrative strain on the Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) department at Mater Hospital in Dublin. To combat the problem and ensure that nurses could spend more time with their patients and less time on admin, the IPC deployed its first software robots in March 2020.
The IPC at Mater plans to continue using robots to manage data around drug resistant microbes such as MRSA once the COVID-19 crisis subsides.
What tasks do they perform?
In the IPC at Mater Hospital, software robots have taken the task of reporting COVID-19 test results. Pre-automation, the process created during the 2003 SARS outbreak required a clinician to log into the laboratory system, extract a disease code and then manually enter the results into a data platform. This was hugely time consuming, taking up to three hours of a nurse’s day.
UiPath software robots are now responsible for this task. They process the data in a fraction of the time, distributing patient results in minutes and consequently freeing up to 18 hours of each IPC nurse’s time each week, and up to 936 hours over the course of a year. As a result, the healthcare professionals can spend more time caring for their patients and less time on repetitive tasks and admin work.
Is there any possibility of error with software robots, compared to humans?
By nature, humans are prone to make mistakes, especially when working under pressure, under strict deadlines and while handling a large volume of data while performing repetitive tasks.
Once taught the process, software robots, on the other hand, will follow the same steps every time without the risk of the inevitable human error. Simply speaking, robots can perform data-intensive tasks more quickly and accurately than humans can.
Which members of staff benefit the most, and what can they do with the time saved?
In the case of Mater Hospital, the IPC unit has adopted a robot for every nurse approach. This means that every nurse in the department has access to a robot to help reduce the burden of their admin work. Rather than spending time entering test results, they can focus on the work that requires their human ingenuity, empathy and skill – taking care of their patients.
In other sectors, the story is no different. Every job will have some repetitive nature to it. Whether that be a finance department processing thousands of invoices a day or simply having to send one daily email. If a task is repetitive and data-intensive, the chances are that a software robot can help. Just like with the nurses in the IPC, these employees can then focus on handling exceptions and on work that requires decision making or creativity - the work that people enjoy doing.
How can software robots most benefit healthcare providers both during a pandemic and beyond?
When the COVID-19 outbreak hit, software robots were deployed to lessen the administrative strain healthcare professionals were facing and give them more time to care for an increased number of patients. With hospitals around the world at capacity, every moment with a patient counted.
Now, the NHS and other healthcare providers face a huge backlog of routine surgeries and procedures following cancellations during the pandemic. In the UK alone, 5 million people are waiting for treatment and it’s estimated that this could cause 6,400 excess deaths by the end of next year if the problem isn’t rectified.
Many healthcare organisations have now acquired the skills needed to deploy automation, therefore it will be easier for them to build more robots to respond to the backlog going forwards. Software robots that had been processing registrations at COVID test sites, for example, could now be taught how to schedule procedures, process patient details or even manage procurement and recruitment to help streamline the processes associated with the backlog. The possibilities are vast.
The technology, however, should not be considered a short-term, tactical and reactive solution that can be deployed in times of crisis. Automation has the power to solve systematic problems that healthcare providers face year-round. Hospital managers should consider the wider challenge of dealing with endless repetitive work that saps the energy of professionals and turns attention away from patient care and discuss how investing in a long-term automation project could help alleviate these issues.
How widely adopted is this technology in healthcare at the moment?
Automation was being used in healthcare around the world before the pandemic, but the COVID-19 outbreak has certainly accelerated the trend.
Automation’s reach is wide. From the NHS Shared Business Service in the UK to the Cleveland Clinic in the US and healthcare organisations in the likes of Norway, India and Canada, we see a huge range of healthcare providers deploying automation technology.
Many healthcare providers, however, are still in the early stages of their journeys or are just discovering automation’s potential because of the pandemic. I expect to see the deployment of software robots in healthcare grow over the coming years as its benefits continue to be realised globally.
How do you see this technology evolving in the future?
If one thing is certain, it’s that the technology will continue to evolve and grow over time – and I believe there will come a point in time when all processes that can be automated, will be automated. This is known as the fully automated enterprise.
By joining all automation projects into one enterprise-wide effort, the healthcare industry can tap into the full benefits of the technology. This will involve software robots becoming increasingly intelligent in order to reach and improve more processes. Integrating the capabilities of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning into automation, for example, will allow providers to reach non-rule-based processes too.
We are already seeing steps towards this being taken by NHS Shared Business Service, for example. The organisation, which provides non-clinical services to around two-thirds of all NHS provider trusts and every clinical commissioning organisation in the UK, is working to create an entire eco-system of robots. It believes that no automation should be looked at in isolation, but rather the technology should stretch across departments and functions. As such, inefficiencies in the care pathway can be significantly reduced, saving healthcare providers a substantial amount of time and money.