IBM enters $50m collaboration with leading universities to research AI uses in health

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Applications of AI will revolutionise healthcare.

By U2B Staff 

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IBM Watson Health will be injecting US$50 million into a 10-year research collaboration with two world-leading academic centers to advance the applications of artificial intelligence (AI) in health.

The collaborations with Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School’s teaching hospital, and the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, will focus on exploring the use of AI to solve critical problems faced by healthcare professionals.

Initial areas of study will include the practical applications of AI, such as to improve the utility of electronic health records (EHRs) and claims data to address public health issues such as patient safety, precision medicine and health equity, according to IBM’s health unit.

Additionally, researchers will explore other areas such as physician and patient user experience and interactions with AI technologies.

“Building on the MIT-IBM Watson Lab announced last year, this collaboration will include contributions from IBM Watson Health’s longstanding commitment to scientific research and our belief that working together with the world’s leading institutions is the fastest path to develop, advance, and understand practical solutions that solve some of the world’s biggest health challenges,” said Kyu Rhee, M.D., M.P.P., vice president and chief health officer at IBM Watson Health.

A 2017 study by the University of Wisconsin and the American Medical Association (AMA) revealed that clerical and administrative work dominate a large portion of a physician’s typical workday. The study found that they spend 5.9 hours of an 11.4-hour workday on EHR data entry, with 4.5 of these hours taking place during clinical hours and 1.5 during off-hours.

The amount of time spent on data entry is a cause for concern, and the AMA believes this is creating a serious work-life imbalance for these healthcare specialists.

AI could very well solve this problem.

“But there is still a great deal of work to be done to demystify the real role of AI in healthcare with practical, proven results and clear-cut best practices,” Kyu Rhee said.

IBM’s research with the university’s scientists will draw on the areas of expertise of both organizations and will be a joint effort among IBM Watson’s Vice-President and Chief Science Officer Gretchen Purcell Jackson, Brigham and Women’s Hospital Chief of General Internal Medicine David Bates, Harvard Medical School’s Professor of Medicine Kevin Johnson, and Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Executive Vice-President for Research Gordon Bernard.

Commenting on the tie-up, Jackson said such collaborations give IBM’s scientists the opportunity to work closely with some of the best health informatics researchers in the world to advance the fields of AI, clinical decision support and implementation science.

With technologies developing at such a rapid pace around the world, medical data alone is expected to double every 73 days by the year 2020, he pointed out.

Jackson, a surgeon himself, said he would often have to make critical decisions affecting the lives of the children he treated but would not have the time to sift through the EHR or troves of studies in medical literature.

“Our collaborative research will unlock new insights that affect broad health stakeholders: from providers, payers, governments, and life science companies to ultimately the most important stakeholder, patients, and seek to improve health around the globe,” he said.

Johnson added: “I have committed my career to using health information technologies to deliver precision medicine, promote health equity, and understand the human-machine interface and opportunities to improve public health.

“As the largest biomedical informatics department in the US, we have been a longstanding leader in understanding the role and potential of new technologies like AI. We are excited to work with a leader like IBM Watson Health and we look forward to expanding the relationship as Watson Health continues to grow.”

Watson Health is a business unit of IBM that is dedicated to the development and implementation of cognitive and data-driven technologies to advance health.