Earlier this year, a supercomputer named Watson gained notice when he competed against “Jeopardy!” superstars Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter—and won. Now, Watson’s smarts have landed him a job in health care.
Wellpoint, one of the country’s largest plan providers with around 34 million subscribers, announced today it’s tapping IBM’s Watson technology to improve patient care. Watson, named after IBM founder Thomas Watson, is a computing system built by a team of IBM scientists that rivals a human’s ability to answer questions posed in natural language with speed, accuracy and confidence.
And the Wellpoint job won’t be such an elementary gig for dear Watson—he’ll be used to help diagnose and treat patients.
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 seconds, 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 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,” says Sam Nussbaum, WellPoint’s chief medical officer.
But Watson won’t keep doctors from having a job—he’ll simply assist doctors in the decision-making process, the companies say. Watson may, for example, help physicians identify treatment options that balance the interactions of various drugs and narrow among a large group of treatment choices, enabling physicians to quickly select the more effective treatment plans for their patients.
He is also expected to streamline communication between a patient’s physician and their health plan, helping to improve efficiency in clinical review of complex cases. Watson can even be used to direct patients to the physician in their area with the best success in treating a particular illness.
“With medical information doubling every five years and health care costs increasing, Watson has tremendous potential for applications that improve the efficiency of care and reduce wait times for diagnosis and treatment by enabling clinicians with access to the best clinical data the moment they need it,” says Manoj Saxena, general manager, Watson Solutions, IBM Software Group.
Watson will begin work early next year. The companies did not disclose his salary.