IBM aims Watson's cognitive computer power at CVS customers

By detecting health problems earlier, Watson is expected to cut healthcare costs

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Leanne LeBlanc, IBM Watson project manager, views analytics of healthcare data at Watson headquarters in New York City. IBM says each person generates one million gigabytes of health-related data across his or her lifetime, the equivalent of more than 300 million books. IBM launched the new Watson Health business unit to help patients, physicians, researchers and insurers use data analytics to achieve better healthcare results.


Credit: IBM

IBM's Watson will be working for drugstore chain CVS in a partnership that has the supercomputer pointing its cognitive computing power at customers with chronic illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension and obesity offering care providers insights into their patients' behaviors.

In a partnership announced today, IBM's Watson supercomputer will be used to ingest data from CVS patient clinical records, claims data and fitness devices and then combine that with the latest medical research to provide pharmacies, nurses and allied physicians with best practices for treating patients who suffer from chronic illnesses.

By detecting potential issues early, the hope is that Watson will be able to help healthcare providers treat potential patients at risk of illnesses such as diabetes, high blood pressure and congestive heart failure before they become critical.

"The need to do so is urgent. The U.S. spends an estimated $2.9 trillion on healthcare, of which 86% goes to address chronic diseases," IBM stated. "Yet the U.S. currently ranks 37th in health outcomes globally according to the World Health Organization."

CVS has 7,600 retail drugstores, nearly 1,000 walk-in medical clinics, and pharmacy benefits management programs that involve 70 million members of various medical plans.

The Watson supercomputer analyzes high volumes of data and processes information more like a human than a computer—by understanding natural language, generating hypotheses based on evidence, and learning as it goes.

Additionally, IBM operates the Watson Health Cloud, a service that it says provides a secure and open platform for physicians, researchers, insurers and companies focused on health and wellness research. The HIPAA-compliant Watson Health Cloud will enable secure access to individualized patient insights and a more complete picture of the many factors that can affect people's health.

With the prevalence of personal fitness trackers, connected medical devices and sensors capable of collecting biometric information in real time, the average person is likely to generate more than 1 million GB of health-related data in their lifetime (the equivalent of more than 300 million books), according to IBM.

At the same time, it's difficult to connect growing pools of patient information with more traditional sources such as doctor-created medical records, clinical research and individual genomes - data sets that are fragmented and not easily shared.

The Watson Health Cloud makes patient data anonymous by stripping out personal identification fields in a database. It then combines the patient data with an aggregated view of clinical, research and social health data. IBM customers like CVS, as well as partners and medical researchers, can then use the data to find new connections with previously siloed healthcare data sets and spur the creation of  data-driven applications designed to advance health and wellness.

"Individual patients and larger health populations alike will benefit as providers share and apply those insights in real-time to drive better, faster and less expensive treatments," IBM stated. "A highly scalable and secure global information platform is essential to pull out individualized insights to help people and providers make timely, evidence-based decisions about health-related issues."

IBM's supercomputer is expected to offer CVS's healthcare providers a more holistic view of each patient, with the ability to coordinate across different provider organizations and detect signs of potential clinical declines in patients.

"CVS pharmacists, nurse practitioners and other health providers will be able to proactively treat the whole patient, when and where they need," IBM stated in a press release.

Watson's predictive analytics capabilities will be aimed at providing information for three main purposes:

Helping to predict individuals at risk for declining health who may benefit from customized engagement programs;

Encouraging patients to adopt safe and healthy behaviors, including adherence to prescribed medicines and healthy lifestyle regimens;

Suggesting appropriate use of cost-effective primary care and out-patient providers.

"This partnership will enable us to leverage advanced technologies and key health information to develop a tool that can be applied by a variety of healthcare providers such as pharmacists, nurse practitioners at MinuteClinics or connected health care providers, and that can help our pharmacy benefit management clients, improve member health and manage cost," Dr. Troyen Brennan, CVS Health's chief medical officer, stated.

This story, "IBM aims Watson's cognitive computer power at CVS customers " was originally published by Computerworld.

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