IBM recently announced a new health care initiative to benefit employees fighting cancer. Beginning in January of next year, the company will combine the analytical capability of IBM’s cognitive supercomputer Watson with the clinical expertise of real-life physicians in partnership with Best Doctors. This program is designed to provide deeper insight into a patient’s diagnosis and treatment — a virtual second opinion.

Although the enterprise is the first of its kind in the U.S., the medical community has used Watson Health Cloud and its question-answering technology for a while now. Practitioners at Memorial Sloan Kettering make chemotherapy decisions with the help of Watson. And in collaboration with Apple, other major cancer centers utilize Watson for data analysis and therapy guidance. We’ve also showcased medical apps that integrate Watson health information like @Point of Care and a partnership with Under Armour for a personalized health coach app. IBM seeks to apply this same technology to assist its employees.

How will it work?

Best Doctors is a complimentary care service provided by employers where a team of the “best doctors” reviews a patient’s records and lab tests to create a report for the benefit of the patient and their treating physician. With the Watson collaboration, Best Doctors will have access to massive bodies of medical data.

For the patient, the process is simple. Employees who wish to partake will submit their data and medical records to the Best Doctors team who then feed the information into Watson. Watson analyzes the data and creates a report that is reviewed by oncologists from the Best Doctors network. That assessment is then given to the patient and their personal oncologist.

Both patients and their families will have access to several of Watson’s services, including Watson for Oncology for evidence-based treatment recommendations, Watson for Trial Matching to match patients to clinical trials and Watson for Genomics which analyzes a tumor’s genomic profile and suggests therapies.