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Mayo Clinic and IBM Watson Deliver Good News for AI in Healthcare


Using Watson to improve clinical trial improvement can extend patients' lives, Mayo Clinic's Kate Pomerleau says.

Is Kate Pomerleau down on artificial intelligence (AI)? Nope.

“I live and breathe AI on a daily basis, and I love it,” she told Healthcare Analytics News™. “It's cutting edge, it's bleeding edge and that's where the industry is going.”

She’s a project manager at the Mayo Clinic, and her group has been working with IBM Watson Health since 2014. They hope to use the tech giant’s AI to refine clinical trial recruitment. At HIMSS 2018 this week in Las Vegas, Nevada, they announced some early success in the program—an 80% increase in Mayo Clinic’s breast cancer clinical trials thanks to the technology.

The technology helps parse through reams of information more quickly (and painlessly) than any doctor would be able to, identifying patients who best match Mayo Clinic’s clinical trial criteria.

“We're offering hope to patients, sometimes offering the only hope that they have for extending their life a few years or a few months to spend time with their families,” Pomerleau said.

In an age of growing hype—and skeptical backlash—directed towards AI, she said it was important to be patient, no matter how confident you are in the technology.

“It's not going to work 100% the first time. We've tried and failed and tried and failed,” she said. “One of the things that we learned is that the technical solution is just 1 side of the coin: The other solution is how you implement it.”

That was a matter of acclimating clinicians, researchers, and the clinical trial staff to a whole new way of working. Getting them to trust the system’s outputs is also an important challenge, according to Pomerleau.

The team overcame early failures through a combination of good partnership and good process, she added. Mayo Clinic and IBM Watson Health announced that their collaboration would be continuing, and may someday extend Watson for Clinical Trial Matching’s capabilities to other cancers.

“Give it time to mature and I think the results will speak for themselves,” Pomerleau said. “The ability of AI is ever-reaching. It's coming…it's here.”

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