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The Future Is Here: LifeLearn and IBM Watson Bring Cognitive Computing to Veterinary Practices

Posted in Guest Blogger @ Jun 17th 2015 - By Jackie Harris, LifeLearn
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I saw on Twitter that 'Sofie' was mentioned in a session during the 2015 AVA Conference and so was interested to find out more. LifeLearn's Jackie Harris was kind enough to explain what this fascinating tool is all about....

LifeLearn Sofie is an intelligent decision support tool that assists veterinarians in making quick, evidence-based decisions.

Powered by IBM Watson, the world’s leading cognitive computing system, Sofie references the industry’s most credible veterinary texts, journals, and proceedings to provide users with instant, evidence-based recommendations for a broad range of companion animal cases. Its goal is to assist veterinarians in maximizing time spent with their teams, clients, and patients, and to ultimately enhance the veterinary experience by delivering targeted treatment options and improved patient outcomes.

Built for veterinarians by veterinarians

To be crystal clear, because this question comes up often, Sofie is not available for sale to pet owners. This tool is built for veterinarians by veterinarians, and it requires specialized veterinary knowledge to interpret and act on the technical recommendations it provides. It is not a Google search tool that returns results from all over the Internet; it relies on credible, evidence-based information from the industry’s leading content providers.

Sofie - thinking and interpreting results like a veterinarian

Today, Sofie is learning how to think and interpret results like a veterinarian. Sofie is being constantly trained on the pathogenesis of disease, treatment outcomes, test results, and other data points for the most comprehensive baseline understanding of the most significant conditions in animal health.

Sofie has been released to a limited number of veterinarians across North America. While the reception to Sofie has been positive, there has also been a general learning curve for veterinarians as they get used to working with this technology. Unlike traditional search engine systems, Watson doesn’t learn a set of finite rules from a finite set of data. In fact it does something that is far more powerful: it learns, reacts, challenges, validates, exposes, and explores to help augment human intelligence. It has been trained to answer direct questions rather than open-ended ones, and full sentences rather than a series of search terms.

How it's best to talk with Sofie

Here are three examples of the kinds of questions that work best with Sofie:

  • Rather than “congestive heart failure cat,” ask, “What are the best treatments for congestive heart failure in a cat?”
  • Rather than “mast cell + grade 1,” ask, “How can I stage a mast cell tumor in a dog?”
  • Rather than “epinephrine dose,” ask, “What is epinephrine dose for a patient in shock?”

Sofie is currently aiding the treatment of veterinary medicine, but this is just the beginning.

Sofie has a good understanding of the principles of veterinary medicine and is able to use that understanding to address queries efficiently and accurately. However, veterinary medicine is far from textbook and Sofie needs to adapt to understand how the intricate details of a case, an outcome, a test result, or a patient will impact the decisions that we make.

In the next several months, Sofie will begin to digest information on cases – lots of cases – to understand how veterinarians process information and make decisions. Sofie will use this information to provide additional context for the textbook and academic literature that it has digested. In turn, we believe we will have a tool that not only can provide the best evidence-based information but, more importantly, a tool that has been in the trenches and has seen how decisions are being made on a daily basis by veterinarians. Sofie will learn at a rate that is far faster and far greater than any human ever could and, in turn, will be able to provide that understanding and support back to the veterinarians it learned from.

It's an exciting time in the veterinary profession....

This is an exciting time in the profession: Sofie is going to revolutionize the way we interact with information. Most importantly, we’ll be able to provide a level of care to patients, a level of support to pet parents, and a level of understanding to our teams and ourselves, that we never thought possible.

For more information about Sofie, or to request your personal demo, visit

If you have any questions about Sofie (e.g. when can you get your hands on it?!) why not ask Jackie in the comments section below?


Jackie is the product marketing manager for LifeLearn Sofie.

Apart from her 7 years experience as a small business owner, she is also an avid artist and marketing consultant. She is passionate about the veterinary industry and is excited about the future possibilities that cognitive computing can have on animal health.

Connect with LifeLearn: Website | Facebook | Twitter 


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