- IBM has confirmed it cut an undisclosed number of jobs at Watson Health, but asserts the cognitive solutions unit is still its “moon shot,” The Herald Sun reported.
- The layoffs impact only “a small percentage of our global Watson Health workforce as we move to more technology-intensive offerings, simplified processes and automation to drive speed,” an IBM spokesperson told the newspaper.
- News of the job pruning comes as Watson has failed to live up to early expectations that it would be the silver bullet doctors were looking for in the quest to refine and personalize cancer treatments.
A number of investigations have tempered expectations for the product.
Last year, right before IBM Ginni Rometty was set to take the stage to deliver a keynote at HIMSS17, a Forbes report found that the company's partnership with MD Anderson was not meeting its goals.
According to a STAT investigation later that year, the supercomputer has struggled to learn about different cancer types, with a relatively small number of hospitals having actually adopted its oncology system. Foreign providers have carped that Watson’s recommendations trend toward American patients and treatment methods.
Artificial intelligence was lifted as phrase to include in product portfolios and grab headlines but questions have been raised over its merits.
During HIMSS 2018, a panel of experts contended that artificial intelligence may be overhyped but that the technology is ready for prime time. What’s missing, in many cases, is physician trust over whether AI is reliable and worthy of adoption.
Providers are trying to understand the impact of AI not only on patient care and outcomes but also on workflow efficiency and the bottom line. For example, will AI cut down on staff to perform data-intensive tasks, thus reducing labor costs, or require the same number of employees but speed up results, leading to higher revenue streams?
The recent layoffs do not appear to signal any pullback from IBM’s commitment to AI and its Watson Health division. Just last month, the company announced that India-based Apollo Hospitals will deploy Watson across 10 sites for oncology and genomics.
It's unlikely this trend will go away any time soon. More likely, technology companies, including IBM Watson Health, will continue to try and carve out their niche in the space to grab part of healthcare's $3 trillion market share. Tech giants including Microsoft, Google and Apple have thrown their hat in the healthcare AI space.