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WELLPOINT INC : WellPoint and IBM Announce Agreement to Put Watson to Work in Health Care

09/12/2011 | 06:25am US/Eastern
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INDIANAPOLIS and ARMONK, N.Y., Sept. 12, 2011 /PRNewswire via COMTEX/ --

WellPoint, Inc. (NYSE: WLP), and IBM (NYSE: IBM) announced an agreement today to create the first commercial applications of the IBM Watson technology. Under the agreement, WellPoint will develop and launch Watson-based solutions to help improve patient care through the delivery of up-to-date, evidence-based health care for millions of Americans. IBM will develop the base Watson healthcare technology on which WellPoint's solution will run.

Watson, named after IBM founder Thomas J. Watson, is a computing system built by a team of IBM scientists who set out to accomplish a grand challenge - build a computing system that rivals a human's ability to answer questions posed in natural language with speed, accuracy and confidence. Earlier this year, Watson competed and won against two of the most celebrated players ever to appear on Jeopardy!. This historic match is being rebroadcast over three days, beginning today.

Watson's ability to analyze the meaning and context of human language, and quickly process vast amounts of information to suggest options targeted to a patient's circumstances, can assist decision makers, such as physicians and nurses, in identifying the most likely diagnosis and treatment options for their patients.

In recent years, few areas have advanced as rapidly as health care. For physicians, incorporating hundreds of thousands of articles into practice and applying them to patient care is a significant challenge. Watson can sift through an equivalent of about 1 million books or roughly 200 million pages of data, and analyze this information and provide precise responses in less than three seconds. Using this extraordinary capability WellPoint is expected to enable Watson to allow physicians to easily coordinate medical data programmed into Watson with specified patient factors, to help identify the most likely diagnosis and treatment options in complex cases. Watson is expected to serve as a powerful tool in the physician's decision making process.

Medical conditions such as cancer, diabetes, chronic heart or kidney disease are incredibly intricate. New solutions incorporating Watson are being developed to have the ability to look at massive amounts of medical literature, population health data, and even a patient's health record, in compliance with applicable privacy and security laws, to answer profoundly complex questions. For example, we envision that new applications will allow physicians to use Watson to consult patient medical histories, recent test results, recommended treatment protocols and the latest research findings loaded into Watson to discuss the best and most effective courses of treatment with their patients.

"There are breathtaking advances in medical science and clinical knowledge, however; this clinical information is not always used in the care of patients. Imagine having the ability to take in all the information around a patient's medical care -- symptoms, findings, patient interviews and diagnostic studies. Then, imagine using Watson 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," said Sam Nussbaum, M.D., WellPoint's Chief Medical Officer. "We believe this will be an invaluable resource for our partnering physicians and will dramatically enhance the quality and effectiveness of medical care they deliver to our members."

Watson may help physicians identify treatment options that balance the interactions of various drugs and narrow among a large group of treatment choices, enabling physicians to quickly select the more effective treatment plans for their patients. It is also expected to streamline communication between a patient's physician and their health plan, helping to improve efficiency in clinical review of complex cases. It could even be used to direct patients to the physician in their area with the best success in treating a particular illness.

"With medical information doubling every five years and health care costs increasing, Watson has tremendous potential for applications that improve the efficiency of care and reduce wait times for diagnosis and treatment by enabling clinicians with access to the best clinical data the moment they need it," said Manoj Saxena, general manager, Watson Solutions, IBM Software Group. "WellPoint's commitment to innovation and their work to improve how care is delivered and benefits administered make them an ideal partner for IBM's software and services to pioneer new efficiencies in health care."

Depending on the progress of the development efforts, WellPoint anticipates employing Watson technology in early 2012, working with select physician groups in clinical pilots.

"The implications for health care are extraordinary," said Lori Beer, WellPoint's executive vice president of Enterprise Business Services. "As one of the nation's largest health insurers, we have an important role to play in helping to improve health care quality. We believe new solutions built on the IBM Watson technology will be valuable for our provider partners, and more importantly, give us new tools to help ensure our members are receiving the best possible care."

About WellPoint

WellPoint works to simplify the connection between Health, Care and Value. We help to improve the health of our members and our communities, and provide greater value to our customers and shareholders. WellPoint is the nation's largest health benefits company in terms of medical membership, with 34 million members in its affiliated health plans, and a total of more than 70 million individuals served through its subsidiaries. As an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, WellPoint serves members as the Blue Cross licensee for California; the Blue Cross and Blue Shield licensee for Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Missouri (excluding 30 counties in the Kansas City area), Nevada, New Hampshire, New York (as the Blue Cross Blue Shield licensee in 10 New York City metropolitan and surrounding counties and as the Blue Cross or Blue Cross Blue Shield licensee in selected upstate counties only), Ohio, Virginia (excluding the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C.), and Wisconsin. In a majority of these service areas, WellPoint does business as Anthem Blue Cross, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia, Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield, or Empire Blue Cross (in the New York service areas). WellPoint also serves customers throughout the country as UniCare. Additional information about WellPoint is available at www.wellpoint.com.

SAFE HARBOR STATEMENT UNDER THE PRIVATE SECURITIES LITIGATION REFORM ACT OF 1995

This press release contains forward-looking information that is intended to be covered by the safe harbor for "forward-looking statements" provided by the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. Words such as "expect(s)", "feel(s)", "believe(s)", "will", "may", "anticipate(s)", "intend", "estimate", "project" and similar expressions are intended to identify forward-looking statements, which generally are not historical in nature. These statements include, but are not limited to, statements regarding plans, objectives and expectations with respect to future operations, products and services. Such statements are subject to certain risks and uncertainties, many of which are difficult to predict and generally beyond our control, that could cause actual results to differ materially from those expressed in, or implied or projected by, the forward-looking information and statements. These risks and uncertainties include technical, business, financial, regulatory and/or legal issues that may arise in the development and/or implementation of the proposed WellPoint Watson solution. Readers are cautioned not to place undue reliance on these forward-looking statements that speak only as of the date hereof. Except to the extent otherwise required by federal securities law, we do not undertake any obligation to republish revised forward-looking statements to reflect events or circumstances after the date hereof or to reflect the occurrence of unanticipated events. Readers are also urged to carefully review and consider the various disclosures in WellPoint's and IBM's SEC reports.

SOURCE WellPoint, Inc.

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