WellPoint and IBM to use Watson to improve health care

September 14, 2011


IBM and health insurer WellPoint have teamed up to develop and launch Watson-based solutions to help improve patient care through the delivery of up-to-date, evidence-based health care. They plan to start in early 2012, working with select physician groups in clinical pilots.

For physicians, incorporating hundreds of thousands of articles into practice and applying them to patient care is “a significant challenge” (as IBM understates it), given that medical information is doubling every five years, according to IBM. This is especially important for medical conditions such as cancer, diabetes, chronic heart or kidney disease, which are incredibly intricate. Watson can sift through an equivalent of about 1 million books or roughly 200 million pages of data, and analyze this information and provide precise responses in less than three seconds, IBM claims.

WellPoint expects to enable Watson to allow physicians to easily coordinate medical data programmed into Watson with medical literature, the latest research findings, population health data, recent test results, drug interactions, and a patient’s health record. The goal is to help identify the most likely diagnosis and treatment options in complex cases, and even suggest options targeted to a patient’s circumstances. Watson could even be used to direct patients to the physician in their area with the best success in treating a particular illness, says IBM.

“There are breathtaking advances in medical science and clinical knowledge, however; this clinical information is not always used in the care of patients. Imagine having the ability to take in all the information around a patient’s medical care — symptoms, findings, patient interviews and diagnostic studies. Then, imagine using Watson analytic capabilities to consider all of the prior cases, the state-of-the-art clinical knowledge in the medical literature and clinical best practices to help a physician advance a diagnosis and guide a course of treatment,” said Sam Nussbaum, M.D., WellPoint’s Chief Medical Officer. “We believe this will be an invaluable resource for our partnering physicians and will dramatically enhance the quality and effectiveness of medical care they deliver to our members.”