How IBM Watson expanded its repertoire to become a virtual job trainer

Learn how Signature HealthCARE partnered with Cognotion to create a tablet-based Certified Nursing Assistant training program using IBM Watson to improve healthcare outcomes.

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As technology continues to disrupt the healthcare industry, IBM Watson is helping provide better training for Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) thanks to a new partnership between long term health and rehabilitation company Signature HealthCARE and digital training provider Cognotion.

CNAs represent the largest employment job segment in the nation, with an estimated 5 million of these caregivers needed in the US by 2020. While these healthcare workers are the primary point of care for patients at skilled nursing and rehabilitation facilities, they are often overworked and underpaid, with poor training programs leading to jobs that make $12 an hour on average. That's according Dr. Mary McNevin, chief learning officer of Signature HealthCARE, during a Monday session at the 2016 Louisville Innovation Summit.

Technology can offer a better way: Signature HealthCARE, with 143 locations across 11 states, partnered with Cognotion to leverage IBM Watson and online learning capabilities to create a more effective and engaging CNA training program.

The new training--called ReadyCNA--involves a 60-hour, tablet-based course that acts as a virtual internship based on patient cases, similar to medical school training, McNevin said.

A benefit of tablet-based learning is the user's ability to self-pace, said Jonathan Dariyanani, president and co-founder of Cognotion. However, this model makes it difficult to ask questions.

Enter IBM Watson, which the team embedded into the course. A student can chose to "Ask Nurse Watson" a question at any time, about any subject, phrasing it however they prefer. Watson will read through every textbook and study ever written about CNAs, and return a quick and understandable answer for the student.

"Watson is so terrific at mastering a corpus of material and being able to synthesize real-time questions," Dariyanani said. "It's as if you had a nurse or teacher there."

SEE: IBM Watson: The smart person's guide

There are currently 1.5 million CNAs employed in the US, and that number is expected to grow by 18% per year, McNevin said. The country is in the midst of a perfect storm regarding CNA talent: There are not enough CNAs to meet the demand caused by the aging population, and it's difficult to take a CNA course if you are employed elsewhere, McNevin said. Then, the courses are not comprehensive enough, and on-the-job training remains necessary. Finally, both the healthcare and education industries are being disrupted by technology, changing many existing systems.

A lack of well-trained CNAs impacts a healthcare organization's bottom line, McNevin said. Being short-staffed puts a serious cost burden on your organization, with the need to pay overtime or hire from an outside agency that may lack the same commitment to care that your own employees have.

At Signature HealthCARE, all employees, regardless of level, undergo CNA training. In a video, President and CEO Joe Steier explained the disconnect between corporate programming and the workflow of CNAs. "The CNA is the backbone of the healthcare system in the United States," Steier said in the video. Without understanding the daily challenges and demands of the job, there is no way to create a better care system, he added.

When McNevin went through the previous CNA course, she said she was shocked: It was a computer-based program that directed her to read a textbook for 50 hours to meet the Commonwealth of Kentucky's requirements. "It was dry, it lacked context, and it was embarassing from an educational perspective," McNevin said.

With the new tablet-based program, each patient case is combined with documentary-style films and test preparation. A third element is a soap opera-like video series that anchors patient cases in a storyline to better engage the CNAs in the training.

SEE: IBM Watson, MIT partner on 'brain-inspired' lab to make computers more human

"We want to help real people get real opportunity through education that embeds behavioral change, so people understand why what they're doing is important, and help them become more effective for the patients and residents they serve," said Joanna Schneier, CEO and co-founder of Cognotion.

ReadyCNA is now on its third pilot session in Louisville, with positive feedback from CNA students, McNevin said. The course is now approved to be used in Kentucky and Tennessee. The partners are now attempting to gain approval in Indiana and Florida, and said they plan to go state by state and modify the program based on each state's regulations.

Cognotion plans to officially roll out ReadyCNA in Q1 of 2017, Dariyanani said.

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. Long-term health and rehabilitation facility Signature HealthCARE partnered with online training provider Cognotion to develop a Certified Nursing Assistant training program that uses IBM Watson to improve healthcare training outcomes.
  2. With the "Ask Nurse Watson" feature, students in the training program can ask a question about any element of CNA work, and IBM Watson will provide a quick, accurate answer.
  3. The program will officially be available in Q1 of 2017, pending approval from individual states based on their regulations.

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