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Watson Health Taps Paul Tang to Reimagine the Future of Healthcare

As anyone working in healthcare can tell you, the past decade has given rise to a deluge of patient data. Providers are often overwhelmed by the amount of clinical, research and social data available to them, and many companies are responding to physicians’ distress signals by developing extraction tools and analytics that leverage this data to derive insights about patients.

As we’ve reported in the past, the cognitive computing platform, Watson Health, is certainly a major player in this quest to make sense of the massive amount of exogenous medical data available. Through strategic acquisitions and partnerships, Watson Health is intent on using the power of data to do things like help cancer patients determine the best course of treatment, or help diabetes patients manage their illness more effectively.

Dr. Paul Tang, Watson’s new Chief Health Transformation Officer, has a new idea for how this data can be used.

According to Tang, Watson’s cognitive computing platform may provide physicians with a unique opportunity to “personalize” healthcare. Unlike personalized medicine—which involves considering genomic data to devise patient-specific treatment plans—Tang’s vision of personalized healthcare involves knowing more about the individual patient than is in their record alone, such as their behaviors, demographic and personal life goals.

His hope is that Watson will facilitate a patient-provider partnership that takes into account information about the patient’s everyday life, and individual health goals, when choosing a care pathway.  According to Tang, personalized healthcare will consider a patient’s personal health behaviors—collected, perhaps, from connected devices or wearables—in the context of a variety of care pathways taken by other, similar patients. “Wouldn’t it be nice if I knew what other patients did, and what happened to them if they took this path or that path?” asks Tang. “If I could sit down with a patient and we could look at the possible trajectories, rather than, say, ‘oh you have diabetes, here’s what we do for all people with diabetes,” says Tang.

Tang’s vision for the future of healthcare also includes leveraging technology to help patients make the right choices by giving them beneficial information at the point of need. “Patients have all kinds of questions that come up that are related to their health,” explains Tang. “I think we as healthcare professionals should be right there when that happens, not when you make a random appointment with us.”

One way that Watson Health’s will help to achieve this aim by making apps smarter.  On the patient side, Watson promises to help take generic information collected from apps and make it pertinent to individuals. “What if a pedometer, instead of just recording my steps, could see how my steps relate to my particular health goal,” explains Tang. On the provider side, Watson will help providers anticipate the information they need to know.

“I would like to be equipped, before I walk into an exam room, what are these person’s life goals, what’s getting in the way, how do they like to learn, and how can we work together to improve that person’s health,” he says.

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