IBM Watson is taking on EHR qualms with a new AI tool

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IBM Watson Health Imaging's Patient Synopsis - an AI-enabled, cloud-based tool trained by radiologists to help them more easily extricate electronic health record (EHR) data - made its debut at Kentucky-based health system Hardin Memorial Health.

FORECAST: Penetration of Electronic Health Record Systems in the US

IBM Watson introduced Patient Synopsis - which can be integrated into existing EHR systems - in July 2018 as a means of tackling the pervasive, time-consuming issue of having to sift through patient EHRs to find relevant data.Advertisement

Here's what it means: AI-enabled programs that help parse through data have the potential to minimize physicians' headaches with EHRs and ultimately slash costs.
  • Patient Synopsis simplifies data extraction, which can help minimize medical errors resulting from physician burnout. Patient Synopsis pulls out clinically relevant information from a patient's EHR in seconds - including current illnesses, medications, and medical history - and organizes it into 12 categories. This should be useful for radiologists, considering managing EHRs is a major driver of physician burnout - and when doctors are burned out, they're twice as likely to commit medical errors. By eliminating the need for doctors to dig through mounds of patient data, hospitals could avoid these errors and save a huge amount of money: The US health system loses about $20 billion annually to medical errors.
  • The tool could also help doctors expedite treatment plans and clamp down on unnecessary testing.Patient Synopsis offers comprehensive, easy-to-access patient summaries, which could grant physicians a clearer view of the best plan of action for treatments and more quickly send patients onto the road of recovery. This could also help prevent doctors from ordering tests that might not be needed to guide effective treatment. Since health systems are increasingly reimbursed based on the health outcomes of patients rather than the number of services they provide, they'll likely want to skimp out on unneeded tests for patients: Over 20% of medical tests aren't necessary.

The bigger picture: Patient Synopsis advances IBM's health play, but it won't come without obstacles.

  • This should expand IBM's list of hospital clients, which has dwindled recently.Watson came under fire for producing erroneous treatment recommendations for hypothetical cancer patients during an internal testing phase in July 2018, according to internal documents cited by STAT. Watson also struggled to retain major hospital clients in 2018, citing softening demand, according to STAT. But its AI-enabled solution for EHRs could help the tech titan lay claim to more healthcare partners, considering 92% of regular hospitals in the US have implemented EHR systems and likely all share in the struggle of managing the burdensome content they contain.
  • Landing Patient Synopsis in Hardin Memorial Health puts IBM in competition with other tech giants offering solutions to combat EHR-related troubles. Leading cloud vendors - including Amazon, Microsoft, and Google - have all jumped in to offer solutions to EHR woes: For example, Microsoft's Healthcare Next program seeks to mitigate the burden of inputting EHRs for physicians, and Google's Cloud for Healthcare platform is designed to simplify the process of pulling insights from patient data stored in the cloud to improve clinical decision-making. This isn't IBM's first foray into the EHR space, though: It joined forces with other tech leaders last August to tackle interoperability issues plaguing the healthcare system, which often stem from difficulties in sharing EHR data among providers. Now that IBM's doubling down on curbing EHR troubles, it will likely eye more hospital partnerships to emerge as a front-runner in the crowded market.
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