Thursday, January 9, 2014

Will Leading Technology Help us With Chronic Illness?

I just watched a youtube video about Watson.  Some of you may recognize this computer as the one that played the game Jeopardy on television.  It has been designed to have cognitive computing intelligence.  The video I watched, What will you do with Watson, got me thinking about technology and medicine.  In a partnership between MSK (Memorial Sloan Kettering) and IBM, they'll be using Watson in the fight against Cancer.

After watching a few videos, I began to have contrasting feelings around the concept of Watson assisting with patients.  Posing the question, what would I do with Watson, I immediately went to my experience with Fibromyalgia.  During the 11 years since I was diagnosed, I've met with numerous doctors who have not been equipped with enough information about Fibromyalgia to adequately treat me.  The go-to phrase, that I heard often was, "I don't know what to do with you."  And because they didn't know what to do with me, I suffered and went through numerous unsuccessful and expensive treatments for many years.  I often faced a crossroads of giving up or seeking out yet another doctor in the hopes that I would find help and health one day.  I persisted in the shadow of feeling as though I was a cast off or misfit because I had medical issues that are not known or misunderstood.  This made me feel invisible and unworthy of helpful treatments, compassion and attention.  If the medical specialists don't see my illness as a real illness, does that mean that it doesn't truly exist?  NO!  It exists and deserves attention.  I deserve treatment that works for me and doesn't have a catalog full of side effects (but that's a whole other blog in itself).  So, could Watson help people who are in similar situations as me?  We are the forgotten children set to wait in line until there's enough independent research done.  Then will we get our turn?  Will it be too late?  How many of us will have given up by then and lived a poor quality of life because medical research hasn't caught up with us?

For years, it was assumed that my sadness through the cold winter months was because of seasonal depression.  Although I had numerous other symptoms pointing to a thyroid issue, the blood tests showed that I was in 'normal range'.  With my new doctor, he took my symptoms into consideration at the same level of importance as my blood tests.  We discovered that thyroid treatment eliminated the sadness.  This is just one example of how medical science doesn't consider the lower edges of their bell curve or symptoms having as much importance as blood tests.  Some of us don't fit into the bell and appear to be in normal range for blood tests.  It doesn't mean we are less important or less deserving of a high quality of life.

The topic of research and data being entered into Watson brings up another question.  Who is monitoring the information getting loaded into Watson?  Will they ensure that the information is independent of the parties that fund research in order to sell more prescriptions? Is Watson working for the betterment of the patients or the engorgement of funder's bank accounts?

At this time, I'm going to assume that Watson is for the benefit of the patients, with that and lowering medical bills being the highest priorities.  In that case, Fibromyalgia patients may benefit as well.  There is new research done every day in regards to Fibro and relaying this new information to doctors takes time.  Watson could make the information available to doctors at a much faster pace.  Medical professionals will not have to take time away to go to conferences to learn about new findings in this area.  This information can be accessible in the exam room.  Watson will be capable of evaluating the symptoms, blood tests, research and treatments without emotion or stress clouding decision making.  I can see how a computer would have the ability to keep the goal of offering the opportunity of the best quality of life and health to each patient.  I feel the project of using Watson in health care, has the potential to benefit people by getting them the best knowledge of their diagnosis and treatments faster than ever before.

Although I've had poor experiences with my diagnosis' and treatments, I believe Watson will be a great improvement to how medical care is handled now.  Without my past experiences, I may not have been able to see the benefits as clearly as I see them now.  I'd let Watson analyze my medical data and I'm incredibly curious about what he'd spit out.

Thank you for reading, forwarding and following!!!
Terri