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Are You Sure It's the Flu?

Bryan University
February 22, 2013


Are You Sure It's the Flu?


Imagine waking up, tight chested, coughing, and generally feeling like the invisible truck has hit you. It is flu season, and according to the CDC, the 2012-2013 season has been one of the worst in recent memory.

This season's H3N2 strain hit the elderly particularly hard. Although the affected demographic is prone to complications from the flu, a crucial question must be asked: Is this really the flu?

Cold and flu season is just a name assigned to the winter months; however, each year brings an army of potential infections commonly diagnosed as the usual suspects, and over the counter remedies fill our shopping carts.

But what if the usual suspects are not to blame?

The H3N2 influenza strain is a perfect example of a misdiagnosis waiting to happen. With so many cases flooding emergency rooms and doctor's offices and symptoms echoing from patient to patient, the statistics lead medical practitioners to broad assumptions. As is the case with many of the affected elderly, patients can suffer from other acute respiratory illnesses, and a generalized diagnosis cannot be a one size fits all solution. Would you prefer the flu, or an immediate second opinion driven by technology?

IBM WatsonFew physicians have the luxury to provide diagnoses based on empirical data—especially during flu outbreaks. Accordingly, one in five diagnoses is incorrect or leads to improper treatment. The subjective assumption replaces the complex process of medical decision-making. In many cases, the fault is not on the physician, but rather insufficient technology that can gather patient-specific information and offer alternative solutions in real-time. Technology can replace the over the counter remedies with needed antibiotics or other orders.

IBM's Watson technology addresses these assumptive diagnoses with an adaptive knowledge repository capable of offering physicians alternative prognoses:

"Watson uses natural language capabilities, hypothesis generation, and evidence-based learning to support medical professionals as they make decisions. For example, in the future, a physician will be able to use Watson to assist in diagnosing and treating patients. First the physician might pose a query to the system, describing symptoms and other related factors. Watson begins by parsing the input to identify the key pieces of information. The system supports medical terminology by design, extending Watson's natural language processing capabilities.

Watson then mines the patient data to find relevant facts about family history, current medications and other existing conditions. It combines this information with current findings from tests and instruments and then examines all available data sources to form hypotheses and test them. Watson can incorporate treatment guidelines, electronic medical record data, doctor's and nurse's notes, research, clinical studies, journal articles, and patient information into the data available for analysis."

Join Dr. Steven R. Gerst and Christine Kretz, Healthcare Program Director, IBM Watson, for our Bryan University Showcase Series featuring IBM's Watson technology. Our exclusive Showcase Series will begin at 6:00 PM MST (5:00 PM PST), Thursday, February 28, 2013. Please click here 15 minutes prior to the start time.

Follow our live Twitter chat and participate using the hashtag #BUShowcase @BryanUniversity.

Christine Kretz

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