- First private healthcare provider in Malaysia to adopt Watson for oncology
- Technology will benefit all Malaysians but cost will not trickle down to patients
MALAYSIAN healthcare group KPJ Healthcare Bhd on Nov 27 announced it will adopt cognitive computing platform IBM Watson for Oncology to provide insights that help doctors deliver evidence-based cancer treatment options.
KPJ is the first private healthcare provider in Malaysia to adopt Watson for oncology. The group has bought licenses for five of its specialist hospitals to use the cognitive platform – KPJ Damansara Specialist Hospital, KPJ Ampang Puteri Specialist Hospital, KPJ Johor Specialist Hospital, KPJ Ipoh Specialist Hospital and KPJ Sabah Specialist Hospital.
According to KPJ’s general manager of New Products & Services Dr Mubbashir Iftikhar, the advanced cognitive capabilities of Watson for Oncology will help to improve care decisions by KPJ oncologists by assisting them with decision support for treatment options.
Watson for Oncology was developed by IBM in collaboration with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre (MSK) in the US to summarise key medical attributes of a patient and provide information to oncologist to help them deliver treatment options based on training from MSK oncologists. Watson for Oncology ranks the treatment options, linking to peer-reviewed studies curated by MSK.
It also provides physicians with a large body of medical literature to consider; its database contains more than 300 medical journals, more than 200 textbooks and more than 100 million patient records that can be used to provide insights about different treatment options.
Watson for Oncology is available as a cloud-based software-as-a-service technology, allowing clinicians to access it as needed.
Watson for Oncology is part of the larger Watson platform and is the only commercially available artificial intelligence (AI) platform tackling a broad range of health challenges. It is used in more than 80 hospitals in 11 countries around the world, including Malaysia.
“Watson represents a new generation of technology that has the potential to transform business and society just as radically as the programmable computers did more than 50 years ago. Watson’s cognitive system will be capable of making sense of vast quantities of unstructured information by learning, reasoning and interacting with people,” said KPJ Healthcare president and managing director Amiruddin Abdul Satar.
He added that technology is nothing new to KPJ as, recognising the need for greater efficiency and synchronisation in operations, the group has been adopting innovative technologies since the 1990s.
IBM managing director Chong Chye Neo said healthcare is a knowledge-driven industry where the collective body of medical knowledge is expanding rapidly. This means that it is difficult for an individual to draw insights from the massive well of data without the help of AI.
“We believe that the next frontier of medical advances will hinge on the ability of doctors and nurses to make sense of the vast, complex and ever-changing information. Opportunity for AI technology is particularly important in healthcare,” she said.
“Watson for Oncology is part of IBM’s vision to democratise health knowledge. AI will not replace doctors and researchers but will help them,” she added.
Dr Mubbashir said that Watson for Oncology can be considered similar to a fourth-year medical student because it is still learning. Data is collected every day from around the world, and the board at SMK conducts weekly reviews of new data to examine the platform’s conclusions and recommendations and see if they are on par with what the board thinks.
KPJ oncologist Dr Aminuddin Abdul Rahman said that though Watson for Oncology recommends treatment options and plans, it is ultimately up to the doctor to choose the most suitable one for a particular patient in both medical and financial terms.
Currently, Watson for Oncology contains data on breast, lung, colorectal, cervical, ovarian, gastric, prostate and bladder cancers and is able to assist clinicians develop treatment plans for these cancers.
Data on more cancers is being added, and, according to IBM, by the end of 2018 about 90% of oncology will be covered, including kidney and liver cancers and Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
KPJ Healthcare did not disclose the amount of investment it has put into Watson for Oncology but Amiruddin said that the hospitals are absorbing the cost of using the platform so that none of it is passed on to patients.
“We believe in long-term benefits. The better the treatment, the better the outcome, the better KPJ hospitals are known,” he said, adding that the data on the system, including the Malaysian data that will be fed into it, has the potential to benefit all Malaysian cancer patients.
Chong said that IBM sees KPJ’s pioneering the use of Watson for Oncology as being in line with the group’s vision of contributing to the general health of the nation. As for adoption by other hospitals in the country, Chong said that it comes down to the long-term vision and goals of leaders in and outside of healthcare.