IBM Watson

IBM announced that it is forming the Watson Health medical imaging collaborative, naming Eastern Virginia Medical School among 16 leading academic medical centers, health systems, ambulatory radiology providers and imaging technology companies participating in the new initiative.

As part of this global effort, foundational members will engage IBM’s “augmented intelligence” platform called Watson to extract insight from a variety of structured and unstructured data sources, such as medical imaging data, electronic health records, radiology and pathology reports, lab results, doctors’ progress notes, medical journals, clinical care guidelines and published outcomes studies. Watson, a cognitive computing system, understands natural language, reasons and learns over time. 

“The inclusion of EVMS as one of IBMs collaborating members is a testament to the school’s clinical, research and academic expertise,” says Richard V. Homan, President and Provost of Eastern Virginia Medical School and Dean of the School of Medicine. “We’re excited to be part of the Watson Health medical imaging collaborative not just because of what we can contribute, but also because of the possibilities for what we can learn.”

Initial plans include collaborative members training Watson relevant to imaging needs. As the work of the collaborative evolves, Watson’s rationale and insights will evolve, informed by the latest combined wisdom of the member organizations.   

“EVMS faculty have significant expertise in fetal echocardiography and fetal ultrasound, as well as in the development of educational and assessment tools to better prepare healthcare professionals for the technological advances needed for future practice,” Dr. Homan says. “We aim to bring our expertise to bear to benefit the work of the medical imaging collaborative.”

Internationally recognized ultrasound expert Alfred Abuhamad, MD, Mason C. Andrews Chair in Obstetrics and Gynecology, Professor and Chair of EVMS Obstetrics and Gynecology and Vice Dean for Clinical Affairs, sees the Watson Health initiative as an ideal complement to research his department has been conducting for several years.

“I envision the medical imaging collaboration could help further our research on the automation of the ultrasound examination," Dr. Abuhamad says. "Unlike other methods of imaging, ultrasound is operator dependent. The potential to work with other imaging innovators to enhance image optimization or to better recognize defects or problems could be a giant step forward.”

If such work leads to increased efficiency and better diagnosis via fetal ultrasound, Dr. Abuhamad sees the possibility for delivery of healthier babies.

In addition to extensive clinical expertise among the faculty, EVMS Obstetrics and Gynecology generates about 2.8 million ultrasound images and video clips in a year. These images will be stripped of identifying patient information and provided to the medical imaging collaborative.

Watson will learn with each of the images or clips analyzed, improving its ability to identify correlations, recognize patterns and predict outcomes. EVMS hopes that the resulting insights can inform physician recommendations and lead to better patient outcomes.

Dr. Homan also sees potential for the development of better educational and assessment tools. “Currently, we test students and healthcare professionals with closed-book, multiple-choice formats,” Dr. Homan says. "In reality, much of the information tested is easily available online. Instead of encouraging rote memorization, we should be assessing whether the individual can analyze appropriate data to draw conclusions and make recommendations to improve the health of a patient or a community.”

EVMS hopes to engage Watson’s unique capabilities to develop healthcare analytics assessments to do just that. After a database has been populated and Watson has analyzed the data, Dr. Homan envisions an assessment that poses a clinical scenario to a learner. The learner could then query Watson — evaluating insights, drawing conclusions and making recommendations for action.

“We aspire to create an assessment model that could enhance a clinician’s analytical skills,” Dr. Homan says. “The hope is that those analytical skills could then be used to examine health disparities between segments of the population or better manage the health of a community overall.”

Formation of the medical imaging collaborative was announced by Watson Health's Vice President of Imaging Anne Le Grand at the Xconomy INFLUX conference in Boston. Other foundational members include Agfa HealthCare, Anne Arundel Medical Center, Baptist Health South Florida, Hologic, Inc., ifa systems AG, inoveon, Radiology Associates of South Florida, Sentara Healthcare, Sheridan Healthcare, Topcon, UC San Diego Health, University of Miami Health System, University of Vermont Health Network and vRad, a MEDNAX (NYSE: MD) company, as well as Merge Healthcare, an IBM company.

The Watson Health medical imaging collaborative furthers IBM's commitment to work in close concert with healthcare professionals to develop offerings for the medical community. Watson for Oncology and Watson Clinic Trial Matching are examples of this approach, as are relationships with the American Cancer Society, American Diabetes Association and American Heart Association. Further, IBM will open the first Watson Health European Center of Excellence in Milan near the Human Technopole Italy 2040 research campus, supporting the government of Italy’s initiative to establish an international hub for the advancement of genomics, big data, aging and nutrition.