Watson, the television game show-playing supercomputer from IBM, is teaming up with health insurer WellPoint to assist medical professionals in diagnosing and treating patients.
IBM and WellPoint announced on Monday they have agreed to develop the first commercial application for the computer which defeated two human champions on the popular television game show “Jeopardy!” in February.
“Watson is expected to serve as a powerful tool in the physician’s decision making process,” the New York-based IBM and Indiana-based WellPoint said in a statement.
WellPoint, which has 34 million members, said it will “develop and launch Watson-based solutions to help improve patient care” and IBM will supply the Watson technology powering the health care products.
Jeopardy! tests a player’s knowledge in a range of categories, from geography to politics to history to sports and entertainment.
Watson, which understands spoken language, uses what IBM calls Question Answering technology to tackle Jeopardy! clues, gathering evidence, analyzing it at dizzying speeds and then scoring and ranking the most likely answer.
“Imagine having the ability to take in all the information around a patient’s medical care — symptoms, findings, patient interviews and diagnostic studies,” WellPoint chief medical officer Sam Nussbaum said.
“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.”
Watson, named after IBM founder Thomas Watson, can rifle through 200 million pages of data and provide precise responses in just seconds.
“Watson’s ability to analyze the meaning and context of human language, and quickly process vast amounts of information to suggest options targeted to a patient’s circumstances, can assist decision makers, such as physicians and nurses, in identifying the most likely diagnosis and treatment options for their patients,” IBM and WellPoint said.
“Using this extraordinary capability WellPoint is expected to enable Watson to allow physicians to easily coordinate medical data programmed into Watson with specified patient factors, to help identify the most likely diagnosis and treatment options in complex cases,” they said.
IBM and WellPoint said Watson could help with treatment of medical conditions such as cancer, diabetes and chronic heart or kidney disease.
“New solutions incorporating Watson are being developed to have the ability to look at massive amounts of medical literature, population health data, and even a patient’s health record,” they said.
Physicians could use Watson, for example, to consult patient histories, recent test results, recommended treatment protocols and the latest research findings, they said.
WellPoint said it expects to begin employing Watson technology in early 2012 in clinical pilots with selected physician groups.
Watson has been under development at IBM Research labs since 2006.
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