Smart healthcare: Pilot will use IBM's Watson to speed treatment of vets with PTSD

Wed, 2015-01-28 06:00 -- Liz Enbysk

The Council's Smart Cities Readiness Guide highlights how advances in information and communications technologies (ICT) will transform the delivery of essential health and human services in powerful ways – and how smart cities will ride the wave to ensure a better life for residents. The story below really brings that message home, describing a pilot that is using Council Lead Partner IBM's Watson technology to find ways to speed treatment for the alarming number of war veterans who suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).


Many will remember Watson from its appearance on the television quiz show Jeopardy! a couple years back, where it used its artificial intelligence to beat human brainiacs. Now the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has "hired" Watson to put its cognitive powers to work to accelerate evidence-based clinical decisions in the treatment of veterans with PTSD.

“Physicians can save valuable time finding the right information needed to care for their patients with this sophisticated and advanced technology,” said Interim Under Secretary for Health Carolyn M. Clancy, M.D. “A tool that can help a clinician quickly collect, combine, and present information will allow them to spend more time listening and interacting with the veteran."

Sifting through mounds of medical data
With the amount of medical data doubling every three years and the size and complexity associated with patient data in Electronic Medical Records (EMR), the goal is to see how Watson can help Veterans Health Administration (VHA) clinicians quickly make sense of an overwhelming amount of data.

IBM says Watson will make it possible for VHA physicians to interact with medical data in natural language, process millions of pages of patient information and medical literature to uncover patterns and insights, and learn from each interaction. By sifting through reams of clinical data, Watson is able to distill evidence and knowledge within seconds.

During the pilot, the VA points out, clinical decisions will not be made on actual patient encounters, but instead will use realistic simulations.

No more important challenge
"IBM designed Watson to help solve some of the world’s greatest challenges, and I’m humbled to be working with the VA in helping them, including enhancing treatment efforts for PTSD,” said Anne Altman, General Manager for U.S. Federal at IBM. “There’s no more important challenge than improving healthcare for our veterans and we’ve seen how Watson can assist medical professionals and make it easier for them to capture insight from so many sources and make more informed decisions. The VA is poised to join other key healthcare industry leaders who are already pioneering the use of cognitive computing in healthcare.”

According to the VA’s National Center for PTSD, there are approximately 21.6 million veterans in the United States. As many as 20% of veterans who served in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom are impacted with PTSD. Additionally, 12% of Gulf War veterans and 15% of Vietnam veterans suffer from PTSD.

Watch this video for more on how Watson works.

Liz Enbysk is the Council's Editorial Director. Follow @smartccouncil on Twitter.