Watson, the supercomputer that kicked the mental asses of two of Jeopardy's best contestants in February may havae gotten a job offer out of the deal; researchers are now looking into how the massive computer would fare as a doctor.
It seems like a natural extension, at least to Dr. Herbert Chase of the Department of Biomedical Infomatics. As medicine has advanced the number of conditions that are known to cause illness and disease has expanded, and even the best doctors find themselves in a position of simply not knowing. For those with a wide range of knowledge on different types of diseases, depth may be lacking in order to specifically treat any or all of them. A specialist, meanwhile, who has a very narrow focus, may be able to accurately diagnose and treat a number of problems but lack the breadth of knowledge to know exactly what is wrong in any given situation.
Using Watson and its ability to scan a large library of data very quickly, Chase hopes to have the computer come up with list of potential diagnoses depending on the information that doctors provide. So far, said Chase, the computer has been very accurate when fed a list of symptoms in identifying possible causes, allowing doctors to determine best treatment methods. Of course, doctors do want to see more than just the top one or two results and hope that by providing a list of possibilities based on patient history, the computer can provide both likely and not-so-likely possibilities about what may be wrong.
In addition, doctors have to determine just where Watson will fit in the time-line of events; do they want it standing bedside, churning out answers as the doctor speaks, or in a different room where it can be queried in private, away from patients?
With an inability to determine what a patient is afraid of or what treatments they may not be willing to undergo, Watson will almost certainly lack a bedside manner and will more than likely be used as a way for medical professionals to get a second opinion or make progress on a specific and troubling case.
While Watson hasn't made it through his internship yet, Chase has high hopes that the machine may in fact follow in the footsteps of the fictional doctor of the same name.