Friday, September 16, 2011
IBM's Watson technology has put on its white coat and stethoscope at WellPoint in order to simplify and speed up the diagnosis of diseases by matching symptom sets in real time with millions of medical records, journal articles and research results. IBM's Watson was demonstrated to the world earlier this year as able to beat the most talented human contestants in the TV game show "Jeopardy." Nevertheless, Watson's artificial intelligence (AI) was always intended to improve the human condition rather than leapfrog it. As the first major step toward that goal, WellPoint, the nation's largest health benefits provider, is using Watson to help make more accurate and informed medical diagnoses.
With millions of pages of medical journals, research results and physician reports produced each year, diagnoses of difficult symptoms often involve successive appointments with multiple specialists until a patient finds a suitable treatment plan. WellPoint is aiming to speed up and improve the accuracy of medical diagnoses by using Watson to scan the vast volumes of data from those sources to match patients' symptoms with known successful treatment plans.
As the first commercial application of Watson's AI, WellPoint's solution will deliver up-to-the-minute evidence-based medical diagnoses for millions of Americans enrolled in its various health plans nationwide. WellPoint, including its various affiliates such as Blue Cross and Blue Shield, is the nation's largest health benefits organization with 34 million members in its health plans and 36 million more served through its subsidiaries. Watson's scalability, allowing its algorithms to be run on cluster supercomputers which can be brought online on-demand, will allow it to serve nearly any number of multiple, simultaneous diagnostic sessions. WellPoint said it was banking on Watson's ability to analyze the meaning of symptom sets and match them with available treatment plans, which will be presented to doctors and nurses as a list of "most likely" diagnoses.
"We believe [Watson] 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," said WellPoint's Chief Medical Officer Sam Nussbaum.
IBM will work with WellPoint to adapt Watson's AI from playing on "Jeopardy" to medical diagnostics, crafting algorithms that also analyze the interactions among drugs and therapies to ensure that no unforeseen side effects result from the treatment regimes it suggests. Watson will also be programmed to streamline communications among physicians during complex clinical review cases, quickly directing patients to the physician within their health plan and service area that already has a high success rate at treating similar maladies.
WellPoint’s "Dr. Watson" is planned for initial deployment in a pilot program in early in 2012.
Posted by R. Colin Johnson at 10:29 AM