Dr. John Hamish Watson is the loyal and trusted friend, companion and chronicler of Sherlock Holmes, a late 19th-century fictional detective created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. A quote by Dr. Watson: “Has anything escaped me? I trust that there is nothing of consequence which I have overlooked?” Watson is also the name of a super computer that defeated humanity’s finest Jeopardy players in February 2011. Built by IBM its creators have been busy retrofitting the computer to help doctors diagnose and treat patients.
Now, you may be asking yourself what the heck does Watson and Jeopardy have to do with your individual family plan insurance. Watson’s potential applications in healthcare have been the subject of a discussion since its debut. According to American Medical News, IBM has partnerships with eight major universities. They are using the data from the universities to program Watson’s information base. One of the partner schools, Columbia, has a professor that has spoken about how Watson may one day enhance healthcare. Herbert Chase, a professor of clinical medicine, was quoted as saying “It’s been impossible for probably 20 or 30 years for a human to process the information required to practice medicine at the highest, evidence-based, guideline-based level.”
Caregivers have traditionally resisted computerized assistance in diagnosis and treatment because the technology has been awkward to use and questionnaire-based systems have been too rigid. Watson, however, can “understand” spoken descriptions of patientʼs symptoms in a natural language. Watson is also able to process years of medical records and doctors’ notes to determine what diagnostic and therapeutic options he might suggest.
Doctors can also ask “Dr.” Watson questions! You are probably thinking OK great just another increase in my health insurance premiums for more expensive equipment. Will there be a co payment for Watson’s services? Maybe there will be some cost savings with Watson and but most importantly, it will improve health care health sooner rather than later. That’s because one quarter of all medical errors involve misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis. Celiac disease can take over 10 years to correctly diagnose. The patient is facing 10 years of malnutrition, stomach pain and constant diarrhea because he/she cannot digest gluten. Multiple Sclerosis? Average four years. The reason it takes so long is because the patients have many symptoms that suggest more common problems. Watson will probably take a couple of years to get to our doctors’ offices. Don’t freak out when you meet him though. He just might help to keep your health insurance premiums lower. And, that’s a good thing.