The super computer known as Watson, who became famous after handily beating two contestants on Jeopardy, will soon be used to assist doctors in diagnosing and appropriately treating patients — partnering with health insurance companies in the process.
Dr. Iltifat Husain, editor-in-chief of iMedicalApps has written various articles in the past about Watson, including one on the significant limitations of Watson as a replacement for a physician.
Because Watson isn’t an average computer, it has pretty impressive specs including the most notable, its ability to operate at 80 teraflops. To put that in perspective, this means it can perform 80 trillion calculations per second.
Game shows are not the only thing that Watson is being used for. Recently, an additional role working with a health insurance company was added. The joint plan between IBM and WellPoint will create applications that can be used by WellPoint doctors and various medical personnel.
“IBM and WellPoint, which is Blue Cross, Blue Shield’s largest health plan, have agreed to develop Watson-based applications that can improve patient care through the use of evidence-based medicine, which is designed to standardize patient treatments by identifying proven best practices. A simple example of evidence-based medicine in action would be when a provider automatically places someone who has suffered a heart attack on an aspirin regimen upon leaving the hospital.’”
Watson will be crunching quite a bit of healthcare data as he works with speech and imaging recognition software provider Nuance Communications. Watson can assist healthcare professionals in sorting through gigabytes of data or terabytes of patient healthcare information to determine how to best treat specific illnesses.
“For example, Watson’s analytics technology, used with Nuance’s voice and clinical language understanding software, could help a physician consider all related texts, reference materials, prior cases, and latest knowledge in journals and medical literature when treating an illness. The analysis could quickly help physicians determine the best options for diagnosis and treatment.”
The implications for the healthcare industry may run even deeper.
” ‘There are breathtaking advances in medical science and clinical knowledge [but] this clinical information is not always used in the care of patients,’ said Dr. Sam Nussbaum, WellPoint’s Chief Medical Officer, in a statement. Imagine having the ability to take in all the information around a patient’s medical care — symptoms, findings, patient interviews and diagnostic studies. Then, imagine using Watson analytic capabilities to consider all of the prior cases, the state-of-the-art clinical knowledge in the medical literature and clinical best practices to help a physician 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,’ “