"There's no question that there's a need for a tool that will help in this regard," Falk said. "Whether Isabel itself is the answer is unclear." Overall, he said, "We're enjoying learning with it."
IBM said Watson can answer some medical questions in the same few moments it took on "Jeopardy!" Yuan noted studies have shown that "If it takes more than two minutes, it won't get used."
As on "Jeopardy!" — where Watson identified Toronto as a U.S. city and Picasso as an art period — the computer occasionally bungles a medical question.
"I think once we were asking what type of drug we should use and the answer was a person's name," Chase said. "In fairness, I think it was a person associated with the drug."
And of course there are things Watson cannot do. It won't know a patient's appetite for risk, for example, or feelings about end-of-life treatment.
"That's why you have to emphasize that the decisions aren't coming from the computer, they're coming from the patient," Chase said.
Chase's suggestion that medical blogs be included may have something to do with his own medical history.
Several years ago, fighting a cholesterol problem, he took Lipitor and was soon plagued with insomnia. He suspected a connection but found nothing in textbooks or journals.
"I go to the blogosphere, and it was like, 'You moron, don't take Lipitor before you go to bed because you'll never sleep again!'
"Now it's five years later, and if you Google Lipitor and insomnia, it's all over the place," Chase said.
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