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COTA, IBM Watson teaming up for pilot program at Hackensack Meridian

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Hackensack Meridian Health co-CEOs Robert Garrett, left, and John Lloyd announce the pilot program at HMH's annual event Wednesday in New Brunswick.
Hackensack Meridian Health co-CEOs Robert Garrett, left, and John Lloyd announce the pilot program at HMH's annual event Wednesday in New Brunswick. - ()

Imagine waiting for your diagnosis. The doctor walks in and says, “Well, I just consulted with everyone on the planet Earth over the last 30 years to see how they took care of people like you, and then I looked at a database that precisely looked at people who have exactly what you have, and are exactly like you, and this is what I have learned in the past five minutes, and this is why I am going to recommend this treatment.”

That, said Dr. Andrew Pecora, is what the new pilot program between COTA and IBM Watson is all about.

“It was only dreamed about, it was only in science fiction movies, and now it’s become reality,” said Pecora, founder of COTA and chief innovation officer at Hackensack Meridian Health.

The hospital system is announcing the pilot program at its annual event in New Brunswick on Wednesday evening.

It will be a collaboration of algorithms — the learning of IBM’s Watson artificial intelligence and the medical database of COTA.

The implications are huge. And it will all begin with a pilot in New Jersey.

Pecora, who said he is really excited about the new program, explained why it is so innovative.

“How much information can a doctor have immediate access to from their memories and Googling something, to make the best choice of care for their individual patient? It’s limited by the knowledge and skill of the physician. It works. We do quite well. But, now, we’re going to have immediate access to the entire world’s databases through Watson, and the precision of what COTA brings to the table,” Pecora said.

COTA is able to analyze the patients and their treatments, figuring out what has worked best in the past, and allows doctors to apply similar treatment models to similar patients in the area of oncology, he said.

Right now, the collaborative effort, which has an undisclosed price tag attached, will focus on cancer patients.

Five hundred, to be exact, with a timeline of roughly four months to test the use of COTA and Watson to treat.

In that time, experts from Watson and COTA will be at Hackensack Meridian Health, working closely with nurses and doctors to create a user-friendly platform that meets the needs of the medical professionals to continue accessing the data to treat patients.

It is the first-of-its-kind partnership and helps HMH increase its footprint in the space of innovation, where it has recently made significant investment and intends to grow as a business arm.

HMH co-CEO Robert Garrett said the pilot is not exclusive to the health system.

“Ultimately, what we want to do with this partnership, is share this” with other health systems in the country and, eventually, the world, Garrett said.

COTA and Watson currently partner with some of the same health systems, but the idea sprouted when Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey suggested the two meet.

Horizon has two executives sitting on the COTA board: Allen Karp and Minalkumar Patel.

From that initial discussion, the idea has been developed and a letter of intent was signed Tuesday.

Pecora said the focus is on marrying Big Data analytics, precision analytics, machine learning and then eventually artificial intelligence to guide care “in a way we can’t even imagine today. It will absolutely deliver on the promise of improving clinical outcomes and reducing the cost of care.”

For this program to succeed, they must find that decisions that would not have otherwise been made by a doctor were made after consulting the combined tech databases, while improving clinical outcomes and lowering cost of care, he said.

Pecora said he and his team are pretty confident the results will be in their favor.

Garrett added, “This certainly has the opportunity to go not only national, but global.”

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