Two seemingly unrelated events occurred at 8 pm on Wednesday, February 16. Each breaking new ground in information technology.
- IBM’s supercomputer Watson handily trumped human champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter in the final episode of Jeopardy‘s three-day “Man vs. Machine”.
- AstraZeneca (@AstraZenecaUS) hosted the first ever pharma tweet chat (#rxsaves) on patient assistance programs.
The timing of these milestones is not their only synchronicity. Far more significant is the impact that Watson’s brainpower could have on the central issue of AZ’s chat (and of our entire health care system, for that matter): getting the right health care information to the right people, right when they need it. Watson’s ability to communicate in natural language, while applying 1000’s of algorithms to the content of a million or more books in the blink of an eye, could well be the answer—a prospect not lost on the folks at IBM.
Next stop for Watson is not American Idol. It’s the doctor’s office.
On the heels of Watson’s Jeopardy! success the NY Times reported, “IBM will collaborate with Columbia University and the University of Maryland to create a physician’s assistant service that will allow doctors to query a cybernetic assistant. The company also plans to work with Nuance Communications Inc. to add voice recognition to the physician’s assistant, possibly making the service available in as little as 18 months.”
Wow! Just add a smartphone app and you’ve got a superhighway of medical education straight to the point of care.
Patients need cybernetic assistants, too.
AstraZeneca’s tweet chat opened with a simple enough question: “What is best way to increase awareness of prescription savings programs?” But as the ensuing discussion proved, the answer is far from simple.
Too much disparity in eligibility criteria from state to state, pharma to pharma.
Too many touch points. Should providers be responsible? Or pharmacists? Too little time.
And too few of the really needy and elder populations are within reach of online patient advocates and disease-specific social media, as this infographic from the PEW Internet and American Life Project shows.
However, everyone (soon, I hope!) will have an EHR.
The reasonable use requirements of health care reform have spurred the long overdue adaptation of electronic health records. Why can’t prescription savings resources be tied to these records? Then I could give Watson a ring to find out what’s available for all the drugs I’m taking and find out if I’m eligible. And while he’s at it, maybe he could help me find the best Medicare Part D plan for me? Or that might be a frontier too far.
Heck, we crossed two frontiers in one night. Let’s go for one more!