Artificial intelligence and medicine: Is it overhyped?

Artificial intelligence raises exciting possibilities for healthcare, but are companies promising more than they can deliver?

artificial intelligence ai medicine medtech medical devices hype

[Original image from iStock]

AI could possibly fuel the future of medtech, enabling such thrilling innovations as implanted devices that instantly react to minute changes, software that can identify the best treatment options for individuals facing life-threatening conditions and fully-functioning autonomous surgical systems.

But artificial intelligence’s potential also comes with an incredible level of hype.

“AI has the most transformative potential of anything I’ve seen in my life, and I graduated medical school 40 years ago. It’s the biggest thing I’ve ever seen by far,” prominent cardiologist and author Dr. Eric Topol told our sister site Medical Design & Outsourcing. “But it’s more in promise than it is in reality.”

Get the full story on MDO. 

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IBM Watson Health announces slew of AI-based research partnership deals

IBM's Watson Health

IBM Watson Health today announced a number of new partnership deals, including an expanded collaborative deal with the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and 10-year, $50 million collaborative research deals with the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

The Cambridge, Mass.-based IBM division said that it inked an extended partnership with the Broad Institute looking to analyze and explore genomics data to better understand the intrinsic possibility individuals have for a certain disease.

The newly inked initiative aims to incorporate population-based and hospital-based biobank data, genomic information and electronic health records to improve and expand genetic risk scoring. The project plans to make its insights and tools widely available to the research community, including methods for calculating an individual’s risk of developing common diseases based on variants in the genome, IBM Watson said.

“We’re excited to build upon the advances we’ve made in polygenic risk scoring utilizing vast amount of genomic data. By coupling clinical data with genomic data, there is an exceptional opportunity to make polygenic risk scoring more robust and powerful, and ultimately transformative for patient care. Such transformation could never happen without these kinds of partnerships,” Broad Institute cardiovascular disease initiative director Sekar Kathiresan said in a prepared statement.

The deal expands upon a five-year deal both groups inked in 2016. The new project will be initially undertaken for three years, IBM Watson said.

“We’re working directly with the physician-scientists at the Broad Institute to evolve how AI can help unlock undiscovered clues about human health. We’ve built a deep expertise in applying AI to understand the complexities and meaning of immense amounts of data, such as genomics and health records. Our latest collaboration will combine these capabilities with clinical insights, and refine how technology can provide explainable and valuable insights to clinicians as they study and treat serious conditions such as cardiovascular disease,” IBM Watson Health senior VP John Kelly said in a press release.

In a seperate release also posted today, IBM Watson Health announced 10-year, $50 million research collaboration deals with the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Vanderbilt University Medical Center looking to “advance the science of [AI] and its application to major public health issues.”

Deals with each institution will focus on critical health problems that would be idealy suited for AI solutions, including the use of AI to improve EHR utility and claims data, improving patient safety, precision medicine and health equity, IBM Watson said. The parnterhsips will also explore physician and patient user experience interactions with AI.

“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. Today, for example, physicians are spending an average of two hours with their electronic health records and deskwork for every hour of patient care, a phenomenon the American Medical Association says is leading to a steady increase in physician burnout. AI is the most powerful technology we have today to tackle issues like this one, 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. By putting the full force of our clinical and research team together with two of the world’s leading academic medical centers, we will dramatically accelerate the development of real-world AI solutions that improve workflow efficiencies and outcomes,” IBM Watson Health chief health officer Dr. Kyu Rhee said in a prepared release.

“IBM Watson Health has had a long history of leading in scientific research. These collaborations give our scientists at IBM Watson Health the opportunity to work with some of the best health informatics researchers in the world to advance the field in the areas of artificial intelligence, clinical decision support, and implementation science. Medical data is expected to double every 73 days by 2020. As a practicing surgeon, I often had to make critical decisions about children’s lives without time to dig for information buried in electronic health records or sift through thousands of studies in the 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. 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 U.S., 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,” IBM Watson Health chief science officer Gretchen Jackson said in prepared remarks.

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Medtronic, IBM Watson debut hypoglycemia prediction feature for diabetes app

Medtronic, IBM Watson hypoglycemia prediction featureMedtronic (NYSE:MDT) and IBM Watson Health today launched a new feature for its Sugar.IQ personal diabetes assistant app that can predict the likelihood of a user experiencing a low glucose event within a four-hour window.

The feature, called IQcast, uses AI tech from IBM and becomes more accurate as the low blood sugar event draws nearer, according to Medtronic.

Get the full story at our sister site, Drug Delivery Business News.

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Report: IBM Watson Health head DiSanzo steps down

IBM's Watson Health

International Business Machine‘s (NYSE:IBM) Watson Health GM Deborah DiSanzo is stepping away from her position heading the division to join the strategy team for IBM Cognitive Solutions, according to a STAT News report.

Cognitive Solutions and IBM Research senior VP John Kelly will step in to take the reins of the healthcare-focused division, according to the report.

Circumstances around the departure are “unclear,” STAT News reports, adding that Watson Health has been seeking to recover from “a series of stumbles.” DiSanzo joined the company in 2015, having previously headed Philips Healthcare.

The move comes after the company cut back on the portion of its business that sells to hospitals due to a softening market for value-based healthcare offerings and laid off a portion of its workforce, primarily at recent acquisitions for which the tech giant paid at least $3.6 billion.

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IBM pushes back on negative Watson Health stories

IBM Watson Health (NYSE:IBM) is pushing back against reports that its artificial intelligence powered products deliver less than promised, claiming that the reports are unfair and ignore its capabilities.

A number of news outlets, including The Wall Street Journal and STAT News, have recently published criticisms of IBM’s Watson Health offerings, claiming that its capabilities fall short of the company’s large promises.

“Unfortunately, some media reports, including an August 11th story published in The Wall Street Journal, distort and ignore facts when suggesting IBM has not made ‘enough’ progress on bringing the benefits of AI to healthcare. I feel it is imperative to set the record straight,” IBM Watson Health cognitive solutions senior VP Dr. John Kelly III wrote in a blog post for the company.

In a report from STAT News released last month, investigators obtained internal documents from IBM Watson Health that the outlet said show that the company’s Watson for Oncology product often returns “multiple examples of unsafe and incorrect treatment recommendations.”

“We have always believed that the role of technology is to assist a doctor in delivering better care and patient outcomes. Therefore, the first question we asked ourselves was, ‘can Watson help oncologists make better decisions for their patients?’ Repeatedly, the answer has proven to be a resounding ‘yes,’ as demonstrated in both peer-reviewed research as well as regular feedback from those using these tools,” Kelly wrote.

Kelly said that across its offerings, IBM Watson Health has programs in use at 230 hospitals and health organizations globally, with 84,000 patients making use of the product during the first six months of the year so far.

Reports have claimed that patients have not benefited from the use of Watson’s programs at hospitals and healthcare centers, but Kelly argues that evidence speaks otherwise.

In response to the claims, Kelly noted a number of positives for the company, including a Mayo Clinic poster presentation showing improved enrollment in breast cancer trials following implementation of Watson for Clinical Trial Matching and training from Memorial Sloan Kettering on 13 different cancers, which he says represents 80% of the global cancer incidence and prevalence.

Kelly also noted an extended contract with the Dept. of Veterans Affairs, research showing that its Watson for Genomics found new actionable mutations in 32% of patients and high rates of concordance in breast cancer at Manipal Hospital’s multidisciplinary tumor board.

“IBM has never shied away from grand challenges, and we know they don’t happen overnight and are not easy. Whether it’s the creation of the world’s first commercial computer, putting man on the moon, or more recently developing the fastest and smartest supercomputer on the planet, we go all in,” Kelly said.

Kelly went on to state that the company’s work is “only getting started,” and that it stays steadfast in its goals.

In June, IBM’s Watson Health operation was reported to be cutting back on the portion of its business that sells to hospitals due to a softening market for value-based healthcare offerings.

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Medtronic, IBM Watson Health launch AI-powered diabetes management app

Medtronic (NYSE:MDT), in partnership with IBM Watson Health, this week announced commercial availability of its AI-powered Sugar.IQ diabetes management app.

Using artificial intelligence, the Sugar.IQ app evaluates how a user’s blood sugar levels respond to variables such as food intake, insulin dosing and other daily routines.

Get the full story at our sister site, Drug Delivery Business News.

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IBM confirms layoffs at Watson Health

International Business Machine (NYSE:IBM) confirmed reports from last month of layoffs, but denied that the cuts affected 50% to 70% of the workforce at its Watson Health operation.

The layoffs were said to involve Cleveland-based Explorys and Dallas-based Phytel, which IBM acquired in April 2015 for undisclosed amounts. Employees at medical image and clinical systems company Merge Healthcare, acquired for $1 billion in December 2015, and the Truven Health Analytics business acquired for $2.6 billion the following February, are also subject to the layoffs, according to the website, which cited “inside sources” and posts on Facebook and

Workers in Ann Arbor, Mich., and Denver were also reportedly affected, although Worker Adjustment & Retraining Notification listings in TexasOhioMichigan and Colorado showed no notices from IBM about layoffs this year.

Spokesmen for Big Blue confirmed that the company is retooling its workforce but not at the scale reported in May. The company is “repositioning its team to focus on high-value segments of the IT market” and is hiring aggressively in many divisions, external relations VP Ed Barbini told CRN USA.

“This activity affects a small percentage of our Watson Health workforce, as we move to more technology-intensive offerings, simplified processes and automation to drive speed,” Barbini told the site.

Spokesman Doug Shelton repeated that message to the Charlotte News & Observer, but refused to confirm the actual number of layoffs.

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