|IBM Korea General Manager Jeffrey Rhoda, left, shakes hands with Gachon University Gil Medical Center Director Lee Gun after signing an agreement at Lotte Hotel in central Seoul, Thursday, to introduce the Watson artificial intelligence system for cancer treatment. / Courtesy of IBM Korea|
AI system to support doctors as advisor
By Yoon Sung-won
IBM said Thursday its artificial intelligence (AI) system Watson will be used for cancer treatment at Gachon University Gil Medical Center in Korea for the first time.
"Watson, which has already been adopted in diverse industries in the United States, will help doctors here provide medical services based on analysis of massive structured and unstructured data," IBM Korea Vice President Kim Won-jong said during a press conference in Seoul, Thursday. "We expect the use of the Watson system will realize what is called precision medicine that offers personalized medical services."
Pointing out that less than 50 percent of medicine is based on solid evidence, IBM Watson Health Oncology and Genomics General Manager Robert Merkel said, "The speed of proliferation of new medical information is too fast for doctors and medical students to follow. An epidemiologist would have to read 167 hours a week to keep up with new professional insight. Watson will contribute to boost the accuracy of treatment decisions."
IBM said Watson's ability to quickly assess treatment options for an individual patient based on medical evidence and clinical guidelines will expedite the process of cancer diagnosis and treatment from understanding patient condition and formulating treatment options to selecting personalized treatment plans.
The company stressed that Watson has been trained by oncologists at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC), and is capable of instantly accessing 15 million pages of medical content and analyzing patient data against thousands of historical cases to assist physicians with treatment decisions. It added that the data is transparently available not only to doctors participating in the treatment but also to the patients.
"We are thrilled to collaborate with Gachon University Gil Medical Center as our first Watson for oncology partner in Korea," Merkel said. "Watson will support doctors in treating patients, not replace them."
Meanwhile, there are concerns that the unprecedented use of an AI system in healthcare may bring unexpected issues not just from a medical perspective but also legally.
In the case of a possible medical accident, Merkel said, "The matter of who is responsible will not change much because Watson is not expected to replace doctors. Doctors and patients will decide on which treatment method is best and the responsibility will still be on the doctors."
Gachon University Gil Medical Center Deputy Director Lee Uhn said the hospital will start using the Watson system for actual cancer diagnosis and treatment processes in October.
Located in Incheon, the medical center is the nation's fifth-largest and can accommodate some 1,400 patients. It has been treating about 50,000 cancer patients a year.
"With Watson, we seek to minimize diagnosis errors and abuses," Lee said. "This will boost general medical service quality while reducing medical expenses."
He said the system will join in the multidisciplinary treatment by oncologists and pulmonologists in an advisor role, stressing that the final decision will always be made by human doctors.
"Though we will be able to tap into the expertise of MSKCC oncologists, there already are differences in medical guidelines between Korea and the United States caused by different lifestyles and foods," an oncologist at Gil Medical Center said. "It will be a good research theme if Watson comes up with an unexpected solution."
Lee also said the adoption of the Watson system is expected to make high-quality medical services more accessible regardless of a patient's socio-economic status.
Lee said the medical center plans to expand the application of the Watson system from cancer to more diverse diseases such as hypertension, diabetes and other intractable neurological disorders while pushing to persuade the government to allow the hospital access to the database at Health Insurance Review and Assessment Service and National Health Insurance Corp.