Watson's medical expertise offered commercially

Feb 08, 2013 by Jim Fitzgerald

The Watson supercomputer is graduating from its medical residency and is being offered commercially to doctors and health insurance companies, IBM said Friday.

IBM Corp., the WellPoint Inc. and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center announced two Watson-based applications—one to help diagnose and treat lung cancer and one to help manage health insurance decisions and claims.

Both applications take advantage of the speed, huge database and language skill the computer demonstrated in defeating the best human "Jeopardy!" players on television two years ago.

Armonk-based IBM said Watson has improved its performance by 240 percent since the "Jeopardy!" win.

In both applications, doctors or insurance company workers will access Watson through a tablet or computer. Watson will quickly compare a patient's medical records to what it has learned and make several recommendations in decreasing order of confidence.

In the cancer program, the computer will be considering what treatment is most likely to succeed. In the insurance program, it will consider what treatment should be authorized for payment.

Watson (actually named for IBM founder and not the ' friend, Dr. Watson) has been trained in medicine through pilot programs at Indianapolis-based WellPoint and at Sloan-Kettering in New York.

Manoj Saxena, an IBM general manager, said the supercomputer has ingested 1,500 lung cancer cases from Sloan-Kettering records, plus 2 million pages of text from journals, textbooks and treatment guidelines.

It also learned "like a medical student," by being corrected when it was questioned by doctors and came up with wrong answers, Saxena said in an interview.

"Watson is not making the decisions" on treatment or authorization, Saxena said. "It is essentially reducing the effort for doctors and nurses by going through thousands of pages of information for each case."

The program is being adopted by two medical groups, the Maine Center for Cancer Medicine and WestMed in New York's Westchester County. Saxena said it should be running at both groups by next month.

WellPoint itself is already using the insurance application in Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio and Wisconsin. It will be selling both applications—at prices still to be negotiated—and will compensate IBM under a contract between the two companies, an IBM spokeswoman said.

WellPoint said using Watson should not increase insurance premiums because of savings from waste and errors.

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Modernmystic
1 / 5 (1) Feb 08, 2013
FTA:

"Watson is not making the decisions" on treatment or authorization, Saxena said. "It is essentially reducing the effort for doctors and nurses by going through thousands of pages of information for each case."


So it's not making decisions, it's just sifting the critical information informed decisions are based on....
tekram
not rated yet Feb 08, 2013
Watson is going to cheat just like the way it did on Jeopardy because it has a faster buzzer. But I have no doubt that Watson is smarter than the average hospitalist.
alfie_null
not rated yet Feb 09, 2013
WellPoint said using Watson should not increase insurance premiums because of savings from waste and errors.

What a curious thing for an insurer to say!

Bearing in mind the intended use is only to determine eligibility, not to help ensure the patient gets the treatment most likely to be successful, I'd expect that an insurer would use this technology only if it would allow them to _reduce_ their premiums. Here, they instead make the point that the premiums will _probably_ remain at parity and not be increased by the use of Watson.

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