Dr. Paul Tang is six weeks into a new job at the company where he started his career.
The 30-year health-tech veteran who is also a practicing doctor is coming on as Watson Health’s “chief health transformation officer.” His job? To find ways to use Watson that will help set up a “personalised healthcare” system.
Personalised healthcare means pulling together all the information available about a person: not just their clinical and genetic information but also their social, behavioural, demographic and personal preferences.
“Instead of saying ‘what’s the matter with you,’ which is a disease focused way, I like to think of ‘what matters the most to you?’ I think we would be better clinicians better doctors if we knew that,” Tang told Business Insider.
Essentially, he’ll have to find ways to take a whole lot of data on a large number of people, and turn that into individualized approaches for doctors to use on the spot when talking to a patient.
Ultimately, using a wide range of factors — like ease of access to a pharmacy — to predict what is likely to happen to a patient if they follow a certain course of treatment over another, could save money.
Tang gave the example of hypertension, or high blood pressure. If left untreated, it can lead to heart problems. There are drugs available to treat it, but they don’t always seem to help.
The goal of personalised healthcare is to figure out if factors like cost, difficulty getting to the pharmacy, or social or behavioural components are what’s really keeping the illness under control.
Watson, IBM’s supercomputer that can process huge amounts of data to analyse anything from “Star Wars” screenplays to coming up with recipes. Watson can also sift through massive amounts of health data — everything from electronic health records to insurance claims.
That’s something a “mere human,” as Tang put it would have a hard time doing.
“It’s paradoxical: You need to know a whole lot of data about a whole lot of people in order to do what’s best for the individual,” he said.
The hire fits in with a lot of what Watson Health has been up to: In February, the company acquired Truven Health Analytics, a which collects data to find ways to treat patients more effectively while spending less, a concept often known as “value-based care.”
The idea with value-based care is that instead of getting paid based on the number of people that come to a hospital, doctors have a financial incentive to do more to ultimately help the patient feel better faster. That way, healthcare providers are paid to keep people healthy and help improve the condition of people living with chronic conditions like diabetes in an evidence-based way. And that’s what Tang wants to see more of.
“I’m a firm believer that if we do the right thing for an individual, it will cost less,” he said.