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German hospital prescribes IBM Watson’s AI to diagnose rare diseases

IBM Watson will examine patient data in order to solve the cases.

By Alexander Sword

IBM Watson will be used by a specialist clinic in Germany to help diagnose rare diseases in an effort to sort through large amounts of data.


IBM Watson will be used at the University Hospital in Marburg, Germany.

The Undiagnosed and Rare Diseases Centre at the University Hospital in Marburg will use Watson to examine the patient data in order to solve the cases, according to the BBC.

The programme will be piloted from the beginning of 2017. Currently it is being tested.

Since the hospital normally takes cases that have been seen but not diagnosed by many other physicians, the patients may have generated large amounts of medical data that could bear on their cases.

Watson’s role will be to process the medical files of the patients alongside large volumes of medical literature.

The hospital has had over 6000 patients on its waiting list since opening in 2013.

“It is not uncommon for our patients to have thousands of medical documents, leaving us overwhelmed not only by the large number of patients, but also by the huge amount of data we have to review,” said Dr. Jurgen Schafer, who heads the medial team at Marburg, told the BBC.

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Dr Schafer has been compared to the titular character of the US medical drama, House.

Schafer has been called the German Dr. House after the physician played by Hugh Laurie in the hit US drama House. In the show, Laurie’s character, inspired by the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, has a skill for diagnosing bizarre and inexplicable medical cases.

AI programmes, and Watson in particular, are seeing increasing use in medicine.

On 11 October, IBM announced that its US employees that have been diagnosed with cancer will be able to use Watson to gain insights into their cancer treatment where this is covered under IBM’s medical plan.

The collaboration with Best Doctors will allow the employees to access insights on treatment options. The benefit will be available as of 1 January 2017.

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