Watson recommends medical diagnoses

Source: WSJ, Sep 2011

WellPoint Inc. and International Business Machines Corp. are set to announce a deal on Monday for the health insurer to use the Watson technology, the first time the high-profile project will result in a commercial application.

WellPoint said it plans to use Watson’s data-crunching to help suggest treatment options and diagnoses to doctors. It is part of a far broader push in the health industry to incorporate computerized guidance into care, as doctors and hospitals adopt electronic medical records and other digital tools that can record, track and check their work.

Watson is part of the company’s broader effort to build a large business in the competitive field of business analytics, which uses software to mine huge volumes of data to aid decision-making.

Oncologists said they would like to test a technology like Watson that could take on their most complicated questions. But, they said, it would be important to understand the process and data that led to the recommendations—and to be sure the computer system was programmed to seek out the most effective options, with cost a secondary consideration.

“I would want to make sure Watson was being directed as an objective tool,” said John Glaspy, an oncologist at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Additional sources:

WSJ, Sep 2011

The WellPoint application will combine data from three sources: a patient’s chart and electronic records that a doctor or hospital has, the insurance company’s history of medicines and treatments, and Watson’s huge library of textbooks and medical journals.

IBM says the computer can then sift through it all and answer a question in moments, providing several possible diagnoses or treatments, ranked in order of the computer’s confidence, along with the basis for its answer.

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