IBM's big bet on Watson is all over the news. This week's World of Watson event helped bring Watson to the limelight, with attendees from 110+ countries. If numbers impress you, Ginni Rometty's number-dropping in WoW's keynote should leave you impressed indeed.
Watson is meant to be positioned as the leader in a market worth $32 billion (cognitive systems), help organizations make better decisions worth an estimated $2 trillion, and make a difference in the lives of nearly one billion people through its 700 clients.
200 million of these people are consumers, and another 200 million are patients, but according to Teva, one of IBM's major partners in healthcare, the "consumerization" of healthcare is the driving force behind its ongoing transformation: consumers expect to get everything here and now, in a way that is convenient, affordable, transparent and adjusted to their needs. They will not accept healthcare they do not understand, costs too much, and requires them to leave the comfort of their home too often.
Spyros Kotoulas, research manager for IBM Health and Person-Centric Knowledge Systems, says "we are therefore moving from treating a set of problems to treating a person. Traditionally, IT in healthcare is there to (a) record and share information and (b) provide tools to help users make better decisions, based on clinical evidence.
There is a critical, and increasingly visible, gap between what health outcomes are expected, based on the patient's clinical evidence, and observed outcomes. This gap is known as the social determinants of health: a person's socioeconomic status, family situation, social context, etc. These play a huge role in health outcomes.
The next logical step is to build systems that account for these social determinants, decision support systems that are based on a broader set of criteria and a broader set of tasks. For example, doing deep personalization of care plans, based on what has worked in the past for similar patients or guiding health professionals to seek the information that will make the biggest difference in their decisions."
IBM's core skillset is in computer science and AI, and Kotoulas manages a team of researchers and engineers with AI-related backgrounds (semantic web, deep learning, machine learning, ranking and recommendation, natural language processing, and healthcare decision support).
Social determinants, however, are a concept that needs social and medical science to be utilized, therefore a highly interdisciplinary approach is taken, working closely with domain experts and customers in order to validate the effectiveness of approaches.