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To the public, IBM trumpets its Watson supercomputer as the next big thing in medicine, a new kind of machine that melds human expertise with digital speed to give patients personalized treatment advice.

Meanwhile, in the halls of Congress, company executives have been delivering a blunter message: We will revolutionize patient care, so please get out of the way.


Like any new technology, Watson poses unknown risks; for example, what if its advice is wrong and harms a patient? But IBM argues that its machine doesn’t need to be regulated because it’s different from other medical devices. It’s not like a pacemaker or a CT scanner, so the company shouldn’t have to prove to the government that it’s safe and effective.

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  • People don’t seem to be aware that this is part of the Rockefeller Foundation’s new program to reconfigure the medical system from the chemical-based system John D. Rockefeller put in place to a DNA-based system. It requires that everyone put their DNA information into a central database. The dangers of that are obvious–besides the fact that the vast majority of disease is not caused, nor cured, by DNA. In addition, it ultimately subsumes doctors to a “central authority” they must consult before prescribing a patient’s treatment. Who, besides IBM, Rockefeller and Gates, wants this? Do doctors? Do patients?

  • Artificial intelligence (AI) has proven thus far to be at least as much hype as reality. Its effectiveness relies on many factors, including cleanliness of the data sets on which it relies. Healthcare has underfunded IT for decades, lacks the competitive wherewithal to attract top IT talent, and the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) further compromises both the security and quality of data it will rely upon in the future.

    This is a troublesome context in which to place unbridled faith in a still unproven technology that itself can be compromised by bad actors with far greater financial incentives to outsmart hospital IT teams that will be playing catch-up with cyber criminals and other bad actors for decades to come. If ever a situation cried out for checks and balances – in this case, reasonable and balanced FDA regulation – this is it.

  • The CDS carve out makes it abundantly clear that Watson cannot be used as a sole clinical decision maker. The health care professional must be part of the decision making process. So basically what you have is a very expensive second opinion. If the end users are willing to pay for it that’s okay, I suppose. But remember the cardinal rule of second opinions: just because the second opinion differs from the first opinion doesn’t make the second opinion the correct one. Since Watson will always give the same opinion, a third opinion may be sought from a doctor as a defensive move. In the end the other doctor will be faced with agreeing with the recommendations of a machine or a professional colleague. That will be swell for relationships.

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