A Jan. 13, 2011 file photo provided by IBM shows the IBM computer system known as Watson at IBM’s T.J. Watson research center in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. Watson is being tapped by one of the nation’s largest health insurers, WellPoint Inc., to help diagnose medical problems and authorize treatments. Photo: AP Photo/IBM
(Associated Press)—Enough with the fun and games. Watson is
going to work. IBM’s supercomputer system, best known for trouncing the world’s
best “Jeopardy!” players on TV, is being tapped by one of the
nation’s largest health insurers to help diagnose medical problems and
WellPoint Inc., which has 34.2 million members, will
integrate Watson’s lightning speed and deep health care database into its
existing patient information, helping it choose among treatment options and
“This very much fits into the sweet spot of what we
envisioned for the applications of Watson,” says Manoj Saxena, general
manager of an IBM division looking at how the computer can be marketed.
Lori Beer, an executive vice president at Indianapolis-based
“It’s really a game-changer in health care,” she
The WellPoint application will combine data from three
sources: a patient’s chart and electronic records that a doctor or hospital
has, the insurance company’s history of medicines and treatments, and Watson’s
huge library of textbooks and medical journals.
IBM says the computer can then sift through it all and
answer a question in moments, providing several possible diagnoses or
treatments, ranked in order of the computer’s confidence, along with the basis
for its answer.
“Imagine having the ability within three seconds to
look through all of that information, to have it be up to date, scientifically
presented to you, and based on that patients’ medical needs at the moment you’re
caring for that patient,” says WellPoint’s chief medical officer, Dr. Sam
Saxena says the WellPoint application would likely be
accessed from an ordinary computer or hand-held device.
Beer says patients needn’t worry that Watson will be used
to help insurers deny benefits.
“We’re really trying to bring providers a tool that’s
successful, that helps drive better outcomes, which is how we want to reimburse
physicians in the future,” Beer says.
Nussbaum says a pilot program will be rolled out early next
year at several cancer centers, academic medical centers, and oncology
WellPoint is the nation’s largest publicly traded health
insurer based on enrollment. It operates Blue Cross Blue Shield plans in 14
states, including New York and California.
Neither party would say how much Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM is
being paid. Saxena says it’s the first money Watson has earned for the company;
the $1 million it won on “Jeopardy!” earlier this year was given to
Watson’s next jobs will probably also be in health care,
but financial services and public safety applications are on the horizon,
SOURCE – Associated Press