Cognitive Computing in Healthcare

14 September 2016, 11:33

Stephen Boyle profile

‌We caught up with Stephen Boyle following the IBM Watson Health event he ran at our Digital Health and Wellbeing Festival to see how IBM Watson Health is using Cognitive Computing to change the face of healthcare.

Q: Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

A: I’m Stephen Boyle, I’m an executive consultant at IBM Watson Health for Europe. I’m also a nurse by background so I have a long clinical career. This is my thirtieth year in healthcare – which I shouldn’t admit to anybody!

My role really, is to start to think about how we can work with cognitive computing in healthcare to really make that difference that we’re all trying to achieve.   

Q: What is IBM Watson?

A: IBM Watson Health is part of the giant organisation that is IBM, we’re the part that is looking to utilise cognitive computing in healthcare. We’ve moved through three eras of computing: tabulation; processing; and now into cognitive. For healthcare and patients, we all speak using normal language and we all try speak to each other the way we would speak to human beings; cognitive computing is about trying to use information and technology in that perspective.

Q: And what are some of the biggest applications of cognitive computing in healthcare?

A: Cognitive computing can have, and has, the potential to have a very profound effect on healthcare. The area I want to highlight for what we’re doing with IBM Watson is within cancer. Cancer is complicated, for patients it may involve them needing to see lots of different healthcare practitioners and organisations. It’s also equally challenging for those who are trying to deliver cancer care because cancer goes across so many parts of the pathway.

We think that cognitive computing can:

  • Help clinicians actually manage all of the data that they’ve got, to be able to master all of the data across the different pathways.
  • Help support patients by being an advisor, and providing answers to the questions they have.

So we think it’s got a great opportunity to support and improve care and that’s what we’re trying to do.

Q: So, What sort of technology are you using?

A: The real heart of Watson is natural language processing and machine learning.

With Natural language processing IBM has invested, over many years, in understanding how language works; from written to spoken- not only understanding what the words mean but the context and nuances.  So we’re able now with Watson, to understand things like sentiment, we’re able to understand whether people are annoyed or happy etc. as well as being able to read lots of structured data.

The machine learning part means that IBM Watson is actually able to reason with that information. So once it’s been able to capture what people are saying, Watson is then able to actually make sense of that and then offer treatment choices to medical staff and to patients.

Q: And what do you see as the future of digital health?

A: I was at the NHS Confed a couple of weeks ago, and I think there we’re a couple of themes that came up there; we’ve had technology and healthcare for a long time and I think what we’re looking for now is which of those digital technologies are actually making a difference and then try to get behind them and make them work at scale.

I think the future of digital health is figuring out what technology it is that really makes a difference for patients.

Q: What have you gained from being involved in the festival?

A: I had a great session and met some interesting people. Being part of this festival has been a positive experience; it’s great to see the Digital Health Enterprise Zone bringing together all the different components to the health and care sector and trying to make a real difference to people’s lives.

 

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