IBM Watson, an artificial intelligence (AI) platform, will work alongside doctors in Germany attempting diagnose rare diseases, according to a report from the BBC.
The partnership with German private hospital, Rhon-Klinkum AG, will be piloted from the end of 2016, and will see the Watson technology deployed at the Undiagnosed and Rare Diseases Centre at the University Hospital in Marburg.
IBM’s Watson will “read” patient medical files and an enormous number of medical texts in order to make an informed series of ranked diagnoses.
The news follows IBM’s recent announcement that it will invest $200m in its Watson Internet of Things headquarters in Munich.
Artificial intelligence to relieve patient “nightmare”?
More than 6,000 patients have been on the waiting list for the University Hospital in Marburg since it opened in 2013.
Prof Dr Jurgen Schafer, who is in charge of the medical team in Marburg, told the news corporation: “That number is almost a nightmare. We need new ideas and new technology.”
“It is not uncommon for our patients to have thousands of medical documents, leaving us overwhelmed not only by the large number of patients, but also by the huge amount of data we have to review.”
“Our work is often like looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack – even the smallest piece of information could lead to an accurate diagnosis,” he said.
Dr Schafer told the BBC he believes that the system is working. His hospital is currently testing the system and running 500 past cases through Watson to see how well it does with diagnoses.
To alleviate any privacy concerns, patients in Germany must give “informed consent” while their medical records are “completely anonymized” when they are added to Watson’s engine. The data analysis will take place at the University Hospital and will “never leave our systems,” Dr Schafer said.
Dr Schafer said that technology like this should not be confined to private hospitals that are better resourced financially, with a nod towards government intervention.
“Our medical systems need hi-tech… I would hope that it makes it cheaper in the long run,” he added.
“As happy as I am that our clinic owner is going to invest a lot of money in these technologies, it also needs to be done by public health authorities.”
“This is an amazingly important and powerful tool and government would be wise to get into this field.”
Loy Lobo, founder of Wegyanik, spoke to Internet of Business about the potential impact of IBM Watson on the health sector.
“IBM Watson is a great technology where there is requirement to sift through vast amounts of data and find the nuggets of information the really matter,” he said.
“It’s brute computing power and smart algorithms can help eliminate much of the time-consuming review work for clinicians and focus their clinical judgement on the diagnostic challenge at hand.”
However, Lobo noted that “the diagnosis will ultimately still require clinical judgement.”