Watson, IBM's artificial intelligence computer system, is ridiculously prolific. In the last few years it's written a cookbook, crafted a movie trailer, joined the debate team, and helped in medical education, among many other projects. The latest point on the system's resumé is to help make hospital stays more comfortable for patients and relieve the strain on doctors and nurses through smart speakers that can answer basic questions and grant patients' control over things like room temperature, the lights or the TV.
It's no secret that nursing is a hectic job, and answering a buzzer just to be asked what time lunch will be isn't the best use of a nurse's time – no matter how important the question may be to the patient. And that's where Nurse Watson comes in. With smart speakers hooked up to the IBM Watson Internet of Things (IoT) Platform, patients can ask these kinds of questions, or request actions like opening the blinds, without bothering a human nurse.
To respond to those queries, the system draws from a database of information about the hospital, including meal times, visiting hours and the experience and education of its doctors. Watson understands and replies using the same natural language capabilities that allow it to chat to bus passengers and provide engaging customer service, and can connect to other IoT devices to let patients control the TV, lights or thermostat without getting out of bed.
"Being in a hospital can often be a hectic, anxiety-ridden, or even intimidating experience for patients and their loved ones," says Neil Gomes, Vice President for Technology Innovation and Consumer Experience at Thomas Jefferson University and Jefferson Health. "If we can minimize that discomfort, even a little, we are doing a lot to increase the well-being and care of our patients."
Of course, it isn't just the patients that benefit. According to a survey commissioned by The Physicians Foundation, 81 percent of physicians felt they were over-extended or at full capacity. Handing some of the more menial tasks over to Watson can free up doctors and nurses to focus their efforts where they matter most. The system will be trialled in three facilities of Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals in Philadelphia that house over 900 acute care beds between them.