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WellPoint, IBM set to put Watson to work in health care

Health benefits company WellPoint and IBM have signed an agreement to create the first commercial applications of the IBM Watson technology.

Under the agreement, WellPoint will develop and launch Watson-based solutions to help improve patient care through the delivery of up-to-date, evidence-based health care for millions of Americans.

Watson, named after IBM founder Thomas Watson, is a computing system that is designed to analyze the meaning and context of human language, and quickly process vast amounts of information to suggest treatment options for patients.

Watson can sift through an equivalent of about 1 million books or roughly 200 million pages of data, analyze the information and provides precise responses in less than three seconds, claims the company.

New solutions incorporating Watson are being developed to have the ability to look at massive amounts of medical literature, population health data, and even a patient’s health record, in compliance with applicable privacy and security laws, to answer profoundly complex questions.

IBM Software Group Watson Solutions GM Manoj Saxena said with medical information doubling every five years and health care costs increasing, Watson has tremendous potential for applications that improve the efficiency of care and reduce wait times for diagnosis and treatment by enabling clinicians with access to the best clinical data the moment they need it.

Depending on the progress of the development efforts, WellPoint anticipates employing Watson technology in early 2012, working with select physician groups in clinical pilots.