Patients of the WellPoint health insurance companies may soon get their diagnostic and treatment advice from Watson, the IBM computer system.
Watson gained fame competing on Jeopardy and beating two human former champions. Monday, IBM and WellPoint announced the system’s first commercial application. Over the next few months, Watson will be fed health care data, from patient histories to medical information and research, provided by WellPoint.
WellPoint executive vice president Lori Beer says the system will then be able to assist physicians. “As Watson takes in all this information,” Beer says, “Watson will recommend the diagnosis that has the most probability of occurring.”
Watson will also provide treatment recommendations. Physicians still have the ultimate say on diagnosis and treatment. But Beer says accurate, quality-based medicine is only delivered about 50 percent of the time, and Watson can help improve that result. “We do really believe this is a game-changer and is going to have a real impact on the cost and quality of healthcare,” says Beer.
Initially, Watson will focus on cancer care. Beer says WellPoint and IBM are targeting the first half of next year for a pilot program, with more widespread use later in 2012.