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Australia’s Icon Group taps IBM Watson to boost cancer care

Watson for Oncology will provide oncologists with medical information and treatment options to support clinical decision making

One of Australia’s largest providers of specialist cancer care is tapping IBM’s Watson for Oncology to support clinical decision making, underscoring the growing use of big data analytics and machine learning in the healthcare industry.

With Watson for Oncology, oncologists at Icon Group will get help in identifying cancer treatment options and drugs, supported by research papers and medical information from more than 300 medical journals, in excess of 200 textbooks and nearly 15 million pages of text.

The tool further ranks evidence-based treatment options across seven types of cancer, linking to peer-reviewed studies and clinical guidelines. With machine-learning capabilities, it continuously learns over time, based on previous interactions with its users.

According to IBM, some 50,000 oncology research papers are published every year, while medical information is expected to double every 73 days by 2020. Keeping up with all that information can be challenging for oncologists, and this is something Watson for Oncology is looking to address.

Cathie Reid, co-founder and digital advisor for Icon Group, said Watson for Oncology will help physicians understand the subtleties of each patient’s illness by combining their expertise with the growing body of oncology literature available globally.

“Investment in this technology will allow us to further support our oncology clinicians across Australia in their treatment decisions – based on the most current, credible information available – regardless of where they’re geographically based,” said Reid.

Besides Icon Group, other hospitals and healthcare organisations across India, China, Thailand, Korea, Taiwan, Bangladesh, Slovakia, Poland, Mexico and the US have also signed up for Watson for Oncology.

Following the Australian roll-out, Icon Group is planning to extend the use of Watson for Oncology across its Southeast Asia network, particularly in places that lack the expertise to deal with the burgeoning demand for oncology services.

IBM is not the only technology supplier that is using machine learning techniques and artificial intelligence (AI) to improve cancer care.

In 2016, Google started working with University College London Hospital to speed up treatment of head and neck cancers using the AI capabilities of its DeepMind research operation.

Berg, an AI startup, is also getting in on the act, with a drug discovery platform that combines patient data with clinical and demographic information to provide the doctors with recommendations on treatment plans. 

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