Enterprising Developments

IBM’s Watson Debuts in Health Insurance Sector, Can P&C Be Far Behind?

Joe McKendrick
Insurance Experts' Forum, September 21, 2011

You may recall last February, when IBM’s Watson supercomputer stomped on its competition – two of Jeopardy's all-time top winners – to claim the prize for being fastest on its feet with answers to any and all questions.

The challenge Watson's creators needed to address was the ability to recognize natural language queries, with all its idioms, slang phrases, indirect allusions and even puns. The system performed well on the game show (except when, for some reason, it identified Toronto as a U.S. city).

Of course, IBM didn't put all its time, talent and money into a machine that could win big on the game-show circuit—though it seemingly could be a lucrative source of revenue. No, the applications for strictly business purposes could be fascinating.

In fact, the first company to adopt Watson technology is in the insurance sector. WellPoint, a health insurer, wants to put Watson to work helping physicians with their diagnoses. As the IBM-WellPoint announcement put it: “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."

As WellPoint's Chief Medical Officer Sam Nussbaum put it: “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's analytic capabilities to consider all of the prior cases, all of the state-of-the-art clinical knowledge found in the medical literature and clinical best practices to help a physician advance a diagnosis and guide a course of treatment."

IBM says 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.”

Even if you are not a health insurance carrier, could your company use these types of capabilities? The good news is the cost of storage and computing power will only keep going down, so “Watson-lite” machines will be available to many carriers. What kinds of questions could Little Watson answer? Consider the possibilities, from fraud detection to taking in social media data to better assess conditions on the ground after a natural disaster. Or, if a natural disaster is looming, Watson could quickly answer questions about policyholders that may be in its path – and even contact those customers to let them know the company is standing by for their needs.

Just don't ask the system to distinguish between policyholders in Chicago and Toronto, yet.

Joe McKendrick is an author, consultant, blogger and frequent INN contributor specializing in information technology.

Readers are encouraged to respond to Joe using the “Add Your Comments” box below. He can also be reached at joe@mckendrickresearch.com.

This blog was exclusively written for Insurance Networking News. It may not be reposted or reused without permission from Insurance Networking News.

The opinions of bloggers on www.insurancenetworking.com do not necessarily reflect those of Insurance Networking News.

Comments (0)

Be the first to comment on this post using the section below.

Add Your Comments...

Already Registered?

If you have already registered to Insurance Networking News, please use the form below to login. When completed you will immeditely be directed to post a comment.

Forgot your password?

Not Registered?

You must be registered to post a comment. Click here to register.

Blog Archive

Driving Growth Through Distribution Management

In the current hyper-competitive marketplace, many carriers are focusing on improving their distribution practices as a key technique for driving growth.

The Start of a New Era: Digital Retailers and Insurance

Insurers from all around the world are making great efforts to become digital.

Google and Insurance: One Year Later

Google is getting the approval for selling insurance on their compare site in a large number of states via a number of different insurance partners.

How IT Managers Can Get Close to Policyholders

Four steps CIOs need to take to lead insurance organizations to greater “customer obsession.”

Strategic Initiatives for 2015: Making Sense of the Shifts

Insurers must choose between embracing innovation or just continuing with business as usual and run the risk of becoming a casualty in the new competitive battle.

To Stay in the Game, Insurers Must Aggressively Embrace New Consumer Technologies

Emerging technologies displayed at the CES could be some of the greatest change agents since the introduction of the Internet, offering breakthroughs that could challenge many businesses.