The Wall Street Journal (subscription required for full article) reported today on an agreement between IBM and WellPoint for the latter to use IBM's Watson technology for clinical decision support.
WellPoint Inc. and International Business Machines Corp. are set to announce a deal on Monday for the health insurer to use the Watson technology, the first time the high-profile project will result in a commercial application.
WellPoint said it plans to use Watson's data-crunching to help suggest treatment options and diagnoses to doctors. It is part of a far broader push in the health industry to incorporate computerized guidance into care, as doctors and hospitals adopt electronic medical records and other digital tools that can record, track and check their work.
For IBM, the agreement with WellPoint could provide some real-world ballast for Watson, which IBM boasts can process about 200 million pages of content in less than three seconds. Watson is part of the company's broader effort to build a large business in the competitive field of business analytics, which uses software to mine huge volumes of data to aid decision-making.
This will be an interesting development to follow. It certainly makes sense to leverage electronic medical records by incorporating data mining systems and clinical support tools to improve patient care. Yet one thing it does not address is the persistent problems with communication between providers and lack of coordinated care that plague both inpatient and outpatient care. It's curious that WellPoint plans to first deploy the Watson technology "with nurses who manage complex patient cases and review treatment requests from medical providers" (my emphasis). I admit I'd be skeptical about the underlying reason (i.e., cost) for a company implementing such a system when framed like this. I guess I'm unaware that nurses actually manage patients and review doctors treatment "requests." If that's the case, why do doctors need Watson? "Researchers have been trying since the 1970s to develop computers that can advise doctors, but the efforts haven't gotten much traction." Is this suppose to be ironic? If the joke has to be explained, doesn't it spoil the laugh?