Watson’s medical expertise offered commercially

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — Dr. Watson is accepting new patients.

The Watson supercomputer is graduating from its medical residency and is being offered commercially to doctors and health insurance companies, IBM said Friday.

IBM Corp., the health insurer WellPoint Inc. and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center announced two Watson-based applications — one to help diagnose and treat lung cancer and one to help manage health insurance decisions and claims.

Both applications take advantage of the speed, huge database and language skill the computer demonstrated in defeating the best human “Jeopardy!” players on television two years ago.

Armonk-based IBM said Watson has improved its performance by 240 percent since the “Jeopardy!” win.

In both applications, doctors or insurance company workers will reach Watson through a tablet or computer. Watson will quickly compare a patient’s medical records to what it has learned and make several recommendations in decreasing order of confidence.

In the cancer program, the computer will be considering what treatment is most likely to succeed. In the insurance program, it will consider what treatment should be authorized for payment.

Watson (actually named for IBM founder and not the Sherlock Holmes’ friend, Dr. Watson) has been trained in medicine through pilot programs at Indianapolis-based WellPoint and at Sloan-Kettering in New York.

Manoj Saxena, an IBM general manager, 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.

It also learned “like a medical student,” by being corrected when it was questioned by doctors and came up with wrong answers, Saxena said in an interview.

“Watson is not making the decisions” on treatment or authorization, Saxena said. “It is essentially reducing the effort for doctors and nurses by going through thousands of pages of information for each case.”

The lung cancer program is being adopted by two medical groups, the Maine Center for Cancer Medicine and WestMed in New York’s Westchester County. Saxena said it should be running at both groups by next month.

WellPoint itself is already using the insurance application in Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio and Wisconsin. It will be selling both applications — at prices still to be negotiated — and will compensate IBM under a contract between the two companies, an IBM spokeswoman said.

WellPoint said using Watson should not increase insurance premiums because of savings from waste and errors

More in Herald Business Journal

Housing boom in Puget Sound region missing crucial element: Condos

Developers are only building high-end condos where there’s enough margins to cover potential litigation.

Somers sees Paine Field as focal point of a thriving county

In an annual speech, he also acknowledged challenges such as opioid addiction, crime and homelessness.

Costco is considering building store in Lake Stevens

The Issaquah-based chain is doing due diligence on the property, which is mostly owned by the city.

China targets $3 billion of US goods in tariff spat

Higher duties on pork, apples, steel pipe and other goods offset a U.S. tariff on steel and aluminum.

Will thousands of new apartments in Snohomish County mean lower rents?

Experts debate the meaning of a recent price drop, one of the biggest decreases in more than a decade.

Can Zuckerberg’s media blitz take the pressure off Facebook?

The generally reclusive CEO sat for an interview on CNN and gave another to the publication Wired.

Professor: Workplace is 5th leading cause of death in the US

Long hours, lack of health insurance, little autonomy and high job demands are killing us.

Trump orders huge tariffs on China, raises trade war worries

Business groups worry China will target U.S. exports of aircraft, soybeans and other products.

Airbnb listings: Learn how to read between the lines

Places close to nightlife aren’t for everyone.

Most Read