IBM’s supercomputer Watson recently made history when it served as a contestant on Jeopardy handily beating its human competitors.
Watson is a computer system that was designed by IBM specifically to understand and interpret natural human language questions . It can then use brute computing force to scour billions of pages of information it is fed advance to determine the correct answer to the question.
With its Jeopardy success behind it, IBM has just announced a new joint venture with health care firm WellPoint to set Watson to its next test – health care.
Watson will be developed to assist physicians in making medical diagnosis and other medical decisions.
Doctors will be able to gather data about and from patients and then ask Watson questions regarding diagnosis and treatment. Watson can then sift through 1 million book or 200 million pages of data in 3 seconds to provide the most accurate possible answer.
Watson is not at this point being positioned to take over doctors’ jobs but rather act as an assistant.
“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.”
Watson may 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. It 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. It could 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,” said Manoj Saxena, general manager, Watson Solutions, IBM Software Group. “WellPoint’s commitment to innovation and their work to improve how care is delivered and benefits administered make them an ideal partner for IBM’s software and services to pioneer new efficiencies in health care.”
Depending on the progress of the development efforts, WellPoint anticipates employing Watson technology in early 2012, working with select physician groups in clinical pilots.
“The implications for health care are extraordinary,” said Lori Beer, WellPoint’s executive vice president of Enterprise Business Services. “As one of the nation’s largest health insurers, we have an important role to play in helping to improve health care quality. We believe new solutions built on the IBM Watson technology will be valuable for our provider partners, and more importantly, give us new tools to help ensure our members are receiving the best possible care.”