Once Again, on IBM Watson, Cybernetic Miracles and Reductionist Views of Medicine

The cybernetic miracle shamans are at it again:

IBM's Watson set to tackle health insurance, takes 'Diagnosis for $1,000'
via Engadget by Billy Steele on 9/12/11

After tackling your tech support woes, the famed Watson is moving on to mop up the health insurance industry. That's right, the IBM showstopper we all know and love for trouncing trivia kings on Jeopardy has been hired by one of the largest health insurance company's in the US. WellPoint Inc. [yes - this WellPoint, a company that HC Renewal has referenced not just a few times - ed.] will make use of the system's breakneck speed and healthcare database alongside patient records -- allowing the supercomputer to guide treatment options and prescribe medicines. [Med Mal plaintiff's attorneys: take note - ed.] Once implemented, data will be combined from three sources in a matter of seconds: a patient's chart / records from a doctor, the insurance company's patient history and the medical knowledge that Watson already possesses. A pilot program will roll out next year to a number of cancer facilities, academic medical centers and oncology practices. No word yet on when The Watson School of Medicine will start accepting applications.

I wrote on these issues quite seriously back in January 2011 at this post: "IBM's Watson, Jeopardy, and Revolutionizing Medicine."

I wrote on a somewhat sarcastic note at this March 2011 post:
"Here Comes the Judge! A Quick Thought on Cybernetic Medicine: Why Can't Computers Also Do Law?"

My views are unchanged since then.

Roy Poses adds a good point:
  • Where are the clinical trials? There is nothing here about actually doing clinical trials to test if Watson is accurate enough to do more good than harm before rolling this out. [As Scot has said a zillion times] This is an experimental technology akin to a new medical device that should be tested as rigorously as any new device or drug should be tested before it is used on patients.
To which I further add:
  • Where is the patient informed consent?
-- SS


Perhaps Watson should better replace our "they're all the best and brightest" hospital CEO's and managers.