Watson-based applications hit care market

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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, N.Y.-based IBM said Watson has improved its performance by 240 percent since the "Jeopardy!" win.

In both applications, doctors or insurance company workers will access 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 has been trained in medicine through pilot programs at Indianapolis-based WellPoint and at Sloan-Kettering in New York.

WellPoint 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.

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