‘New careers for $100, Alex’
“Jeopardy!” was just the warmup. Watson is going from palling around with Alex Trebek and his brainy contestants to insurance consultant.
IBM’s supercomputer system, best known for trouncing the world’s best “Jeopardy!” players on TV, is being tapped by one of the nation’s largest health insurers to help diagnose medical problems and authorize treatments.
WellPoint, which has 34.2 million members, will integrate Watson’s lightning speed and deep healthcare database into its existing patient information, helping it choose among treatment options and medicines.
“This very much fits into the sweet spot of what we envisioned for the applications of Watson,” says Manoj Saxena, general manager of an IBM division looking at how the computer can be marketed.
Lori Beer, an executive vice president at Indianapolis-based WellPoint, agrees. “It’s really a game-changer in healthcare,” she says.
The WellPoint application will combine data from three sources: a patient’s chart and electronic records from a doctor or hospital, the insurance company’s history of medicines and treatments, and Watson’s huge library of textbooks and medical journals. Worried that a computer could be a little, um, too coldly analytical? Beer says patients needn’t worry that Watson will be used to help insurers deny benefits. If a doctor veers from Watson’s diagnosis or treatment recommendations, the insurer would have a clinician review the case as it currently does. It won’t base a claim decision solely on Watson.
“Ultimately, the goal here is not denying treatment but getting people to the right care,” Beer says, adding that Watson was not designed to replace humans.