NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Elementary, My Dear Watson: IBM Enters Medical Image Storage

August 20, 2015

Merge is a medical image storage service, and IBM has big plans to transform that business, says John R. Graham, senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis.

According to IBM: "medical images are by far the largest and fastest-growing data source in the healthcare industry and perhaps the world -- IBM estimates that they account for at least 90 percent of all medical data today."

IBM believes they are under-used. To date, Watson has excelled at natural language processing, useful for doctors' notes and claims processing. However, medical image archives have not caught up.  IBM promises that Watson's artificial intelligence will "see" all the medical images in its archives and learn from them, bringing answers to radiologists and cardiologists that they cannot see with their naked eyes. The benefits of this approach to diagnosis, treatment, and research & development would be astonishing.

There are obstacles. One is the U.S. health payment system. The bias in U.S. health care is that there is too much imaging. Medicare's fees and use of imaging has declined the last five years.

Another challenge is concerns over data privacy, images are entering an increasingly accessible market. The value of medical images is advancing faster than our federal and state privacy laws can accommodate.

The success of the 21st Century Cures legislation, which promises to revolutionize the U.S. regulatory environment for medical research, indicates that Congress retains the capacity to respond to the promise of innovation with responsible reform.

Source: John R. Graham, "Elementary, My Dear Watson: IBM Enters Medical Image Storage," Forbes, August 17, 2015.

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