IBM's Watson supercomputer is about to begin evaluating cancer treatment options that can be delivered to physicians in a matter of seconds.
IBM and WellPoint -- the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association's largest health plan -- are essentially turning Watson into an adviser for oncologists at Cedars-Sinai's Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute in Los Angeles.
Cedars-Sinai's historical data about cancer, as well as its current clinical records, will be ingested into a version of Watson that will reside at WellPoint's headquarters in Indianapolis. The computer will act as a repository of information about multiple types of cancer, according to IBM's Steve Gold, the worldwide marketing director for Watson.
WellPoint will work with Cedars-Sinai physicians to design and develop applications that will help doctors prescribe specific treatments for patients. Some of the applications will involve speech and imaging.
Last fall, WellPoint and IBM partnered to improve patient care through the use of evidence-based medicine, in which doctors follow proven best practices when they encounter patients with specific symptoms. One example is when a physician prescribes an aspirin regimen for someone who has suffered a heart attack.
This version of Watson is much smaller than the one that defeated two human champions on the TV show Jeopardy!, Gold said. The TV version was designed to respond to a question in three seconds. But for a doctor, he said, the speed of the response is much less important than the quality of the information.