Healthcare News & Insights

Watson supercomputer now seeing patients

We first reported in 2011 about what Watson, the IBM supercomputer that won a round of Jeopardy, would be doing for its next assignment: helping doctors make better and more-informed decisions for patients. 

The Jeopardy event, in which Watson handily beat two top-notch human competitors, was meant to show off the technology’s ability to process natural language questions and analyze an immense amount of internal data to find the right answer.

Those features make Watson a natural fit for the healthcare industry, and IBM recently announced the launch of two new services built around the technology, which will be commercially available for doctors and insurance companies.

The services will first be used at health insurer WellPoint, Inc., and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

For Sloan-Kettering, Watson will give doctors information to help them decide on treatment plans for patients, and at WellPoint the technology will be used to help choose what treatments to cover in complex cases.

Previously, Watson was used in a pilot program at Cedars-Sinai’s Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute.

IBM says said the supercomputer has ingested 1,500 lung cancer cases from Sloan-Kettering records, plus 2 million pages of text from journals, textbooks and treatment guidelines. The software will compare that information to a patient’s electronic health record in order to make recommendations.

In making the announcement, IBM emphasized that the Watson supercomputer won’t actually be making any decisions for doctors or insurance companies. Rather, the technology will save organizations a lot of valuable time by searching through previous records and other data and presenting the relevant information, a spokesperson said.

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