IBM's Watson wants to make you healthier in deal with CVS Health

CVS and IBM will use Watson's computational abilities to do a better job of predicting possible health issues and give patients recommendations on how to stay healthy.

Don Reisinger
CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
3 min read

IBM's Watson computer is aiming to make you healthier with a new partnership with CVS. IBM

IBM has teamed up with CVS Health, the operator of thousands of drugstores across the US, in a bid to more accurately predict a person's health troubles and provide advice.

The two companies have formed a partnership that will feed IBM's Watson "cognitive computing" computer, a machine that's capable of understanding natural language and learning as it collects more data, with a wide range of healthcare information, including medical health records, medical claims, and pharmacy purchases, to predict a person's risk for several deadly or debilitating diseases. Those diseases include hypertension, heart disease, diabetes and obesity. The companies have hit on a major segment of the healthcare market: People suffering from those diseases make up 86 percent of the $2.9 trillion spent each year in the US on healthcare costs.

According to the companies, all of that data will be tossed into Watson's brain, which will then spit out predictions on a person's chances of suffering from those diseases. Watson will provide nurse practitioners, doctors, and even health care insurers data they need to address healthcare needs.

For patients, the deal between CVS and IBM could improve healthcare in general, the companies argue. Watson is capable of taking vast amounts of information that is currently in disparate areas and making it usable to the doctor seeking the best plan for averting or handling health issues.

The tie-up between IBM and CVS is part of the technology giant's pledge to improve healthcare by leveraging Watson's artificial intelligence. Watson, "="" champion"="" shortcode="link" asset-type="article" uuid="75d40442-8c86-11e2-b06b-024c619f5c3d" slug="jeopardy-iii-watson-hals-his-way-with-the-humans" link-text="which is best known as a " section="news" title="'Jeopardy' III: Watson HALs his way with the humans" edition="us" data-key="link_bulk_key" api="{"id":"75d40442-8c86-11e2-b06b-024c619f5c3d","slug":"jeopardy-iii-watson-hals-his-way-with-the-humans","contentType":null,"edition":"us","topic":{"slug":"culture"},"metaData":{"typeTitle":null,"hubTopicPathString":"Culture","reviewType":null},"section":"news"}"> , is the cornerstone of IBM's smart-computing movement. The computer is capable of computing vast amounts of data points at a time and responds to natural language. Watson is also continually learning, allowing it to take the data it's crunched and, after seeing results, make more informed decisions as time goes on.

Watson has found its way into several markets over the last year as IBM tries to commercialize its invention. In April 2014, IBM announced Chef Watson, a cookbook of 65 original recipes created by Watson based on its analysis of "flavor compounds, food pairing theories and the psychology of people's likes and dislikes." In May, IBM announced a partnership with conference sponsor TED to include all 1,900 TED talks in Watson and have it analyze everything from content to audience response to gain greater insight into the content of those discussions.

Healthcare, however, has long been a desirable marketplace for IBM. The company said last year that it would invest $1 billion in Watson's development, and would specifically focus some of its efforts on improving healthcare. The company has since formed partnerships with several healthcare companies, including @Point of Care and GenieMD to help doctors make better recommendations to individual patients. Another partnership with healthcare company, Welltok, uses Watson to help insurance companies create personalized guidance to customers to help them improve their health.

IBM is by no means alone in trying to improve health tracking and extending a person's life. Google, for instance, is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in projects aimed at better understanding diseases and limiting a person's chances of falling victim to them. Oracle is also competing in the healthcare-analysis business.

In addition to contributing to the project, CVS will use Watson's data across its 1,000 walk-in medical clinics and 7,800 pharmacies, where trained nurses and pharmacists are evaluating patient health and doling out medications. IBM says that it will also sell the service to health care providers outside of CVS, as well as insurance companies that need to assess a person's health risks as part of their own cost assessments.

IBM hopes that Watson will also inform patients of their "declining health" and suggest improvements to their health plan to limit their risks of making their conditions worse.

Neither CVS nor IBM immediately responded to a request for comment.