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IBM has signed a deal with health insurance provider WellPoint to use Big Blue’s Watson question-and-answer system to help doctors decide what’s wrong with you – and offer possible remedies.

The Watson machine – which famously beat humans at the popular US game show Jeopardy! earlier this year – will now be put to task scanning medical research, patient records, and case histories to help WellPoint’s doctors determine patient’s health problems and find the best medicine. IBM claims the system will be able to scan 200 million pages of data and respond to a query in less than three seconds – although one would think that the false positive rate is more important.

“Imagine having the ability to take in all the information around a patient's medical care - symptoms, findings, patient interviews and diagnostic studies," read a canned statement from Sam Nussbaum, WellPoint's chief medical officer.

“Then, imagine using Watson's analytic capabilities to consider all of the prior cases, the state-of-the-art clinical knowledge in the medical literature, and clinical best practices to help a physician advance a diagnosis and guide a course of treatment.”

Watson uses an information handling system called DeepQA, which can scan through both structured and unstructured databases for information. It is also designed to understand context, syntax, and simile in language to improve the accuracy of results, with the software’s results being checked for accuracy by a human operator during the testing phase of deployment.

The first pilot schemes will begin with a limited number of WellPoint doctors early next year and the results will be monitored before a full roll-out commences. IBM is also looking to bring the platform to bear on business intelligence systems and hasn’t ruled out a cloud service in the future. ®

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