US health insurer WellPoint and IBM are joining forces to bring the power of analytical computing to bear on the challenge of improving patient care.
At the heart of the solution is Watson, one of the most advanced computing systems yet developed by the technology giant.
Watson, named after IBM founder Thomas J Watson, was developed by a team of IBM scientists who set out to build a computing system that rivals a human’s ability to answer questions posed in natural language with speed, accuracy and confidence.
According to IBM, Watson can sift through an equivalent of about 1m books or roughly 200m pages of data, analyse this information and provide precise responses in less than three seconds. Watson’s deployment for WellPoint is its first ever commercial application.
The computer system’s role at WellPoint will be to overcome the almost impossible task physicians have in keeping track of the immense volume of scientific research and data that is published.
Medical information is doubling every five years, said Manoj Saxena, general manager of Watson Solutions at IBM Software Group.
“There are breathtaking advances in medical science and clinical knowledge,” said WellPoint’s chief medical officer Sam Nussbaum. However, he continued, this clinical information is not always used in the care of patients.
“Imagine having the ability to take in all the information around a patient’s medical care – symptoms, findings, patient interviews and diagnostic studies,” said Nussbaum.
With Watson’s analytical capabilities, he explained, it will be possible to consider all of the prior cases, the state-of-the-art clinical knowledge in the medical literature and clinical best practices to help physicians advance a diagnosis and guide a course of treatment.
“We believe this 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,” Nussbaum stressed.
WellPoint will begin deploying the Watson solution in early 2012, working with select physician groups in clinical pilots.
The US’s largest health insurer WellPoint has 34m members in its affiliated health plans.
For the technically minded, Watson is made up of a cluster of 90 IBM Power 750 servers and is capable of processing 500 gigabytes of data per second.