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Thursday, February 28, 2019

Should Watson Be Consulted for a Second Opinion?

David Luxton
AMA J Ethics. 2019;21(2):E131-137.
doi: 10.1001/amajethics.2019.131.


This article discusses ethical responsibility and legal liability issues regarding use of IBM Watson™ for clinical decision making. In a case, a patient presents with symptoms of leukemia. Benefits and limitations of using Watson or other intelligent clinical decision-making tools are considered, along with precautions that should be taken before consulting artificially intelligent systems. Guidance for health care professionals and organizations using artificially intelligent tools to diagnose and to develop treatment recommendations are also offered.

Here is an excerpt:

Understanding Watson’s Limitations

There are precautions that should be taken into consideration before consulting Watson. First, it’s important for physicians such as Dr O to understand the technical challenges of accessing quality data that the system needs to analyze in order to derive recommendations. Idiosyncrasies in patient health care record systems is one culprit, causing missing or incomplete data. If some of the data that is available to Watson is inaccurate, then it could result in diagnosis and treatment recommendations that are flawed or at least inconsistent. An advantage of using a system such as Watson, however, is that it might be able to identify inconsistencies (such as those caused by human input error) that a human might otherwise overlook. Indeed, a primary benefit of systems such as Watson is that they can discover patterns that not even human experts might be aware of, and they can do so in an automated way. This automation has the potential to reduce uncertainty and improve patient outcomes.