Oct
8
2014

Veterinary medicine is evolving at a furious pace as futuristic concepts such as regenerative medicine and nanotechnology migrate from science fiction novels to actual clinical use.

With all of the new treatment options, medications, clinical trial data, and technology being made available to veterinary professionals daily, it's not difficult to imagine a point where the sheer volume of information becomes overwhelming. Unless your brainpower is augmented by a supercomputer.

LifeLearn Inc. announced that it has partnered with IBM to release Sofie - an application designed and "trained" by veterinarians that harnesses IBM's supercomputer Watson to provide real-time answers to veterinarians' questions during emergency situations. 

According to LifeLearn, Sofie is accessible on any Internet-connected device, tablet, phone, or PC. It processes language naturally, so the veterinarian can verbally ask a question as if he or she were addressing a nearby colleague. With Watson's lightning-quick processing power, Sofie searches through "hundreds of thousands of pages of medical resources to return relevant, objective, and evidence-based treatment options to that specific patient."

Craig Etherington, DVM, veterinarian at Morningside pet Hospital in Toronto, has been helping LifeLearn to beta test Sofie. He explained to The Globe & Mail how Sofie can provide information regarding things such as correct dosages for painkillers and desired potassium blood levels of different species, reducing the need to consult a textbook while a client waits.

"The old joke is, 'Mrs. Klein, I'll just step out for a minute,'" Etherington said. "You can use it (Sofie) to confirm things you already know, even doses or diagnostic tests, or you can ask it things you don't know anything about."

Adam Little, DVM, director of innovation and strategic partnerships at LifeLearn, explained the enormous knowledge boost that Watson is already providing to the medical community in his article titled The Digitalization & Democratization of Technology in Animal Health.

"Watson has effectively gone to medical school and in the process calls upon over a million medical journal articles, patient records, and diagnostic reports to recommend diagnostic and treatment options for complicated cancer cases, in seconds. Watson doesn’t forget information, develop blinders or biases like humans, or go for coffee breaks," Little wrote. 

According to Little, the time that veterinarians will save by augmenting their knowledge with Sofie can be allocated to other important tasks such as establishing stronger relationships with their clients.

Additional details about Sofie

  • When assisting veterinarians by suggesting treatment options, Sofie even takes into account the high costs of certain tests or use of scanning equipment, the Globe and Mail reported.
  • Only a select group of veterinarians can access Sofie in the near term, as it's in an invite-only beta testing phase. LifeLearn will likely eventually sell subscriptions.
  • Sofie is currently only focused on cats and dogs. Eventually, Sofie will be expanded to help with horses, birds, and other animals, according to Digital Trends
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