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IBM's Watson to offer medical advice to doctors

Big Blue inks a deal with health insurer WellPoint that will let the latter use the technology behind the "Jeopardy"-playing computer to suggest patient diagnoses and treatments.

IBM has inked a deal with health insurer WellPoint that will let the latter use the technology behind "Jeopardy"-playing computer Watson to suggest patient diagnoses and treatments.

The arrangement, which marks the first time the Watson technology will be used in a commercial application, will be announced Monday, according to The Wall Street Journal. The terms of the deal have not been disclosed.

WellPoint hopes the technology will help improve the quality of patient care and help reduce costs. It will be introduced next year and will initially be used by nurses who review treatment requests from doctors and others and manage involved patient cases, the Journal reports. After that it will be introduced to a selection of oncology practices and will likely be made accessible to doctors through their own computing devices.

The Journal quotes WellPoint's chief medical officer, Sam Nussbaum, as saying that the project is "not about limiting care; it's about assuring the right care is given."

IBM claims the Watson technology can process about 200 million pages of content in less than three seconds, which no doubt makes the system intriguing when it comes to reviewing various medical literature. The WellPoint system will display excerpts that identify the data sources behind the particular suggestions the Watson technology offers up, the Journal reports.

Big Blue said the Watson technology, which competed on a series of "Jeopardy" game shows earlier this year and beat out its human competitors, could grow into a $1 billion a year business, with applications involving engineering, science, and even call centers.

The Journal reports that the oncologists it spoke with about the deal said they'd like to experiment with the technology but that effectiveness of treatment--and not cost--would have to be the system's primary concern.