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Dr. 2.0: WellPoint uses IBM Watson technology to develop healthcare applications

BY Alaric DeArment

INDIANAPOLIS — Healthcare giant WellPoint has inked a deal with IBM whereby it will develop applications using IBM’s Watson artificial intelligence technology to deliver healthcare information to patients.

Watson, named for IBM founder Thomas Watson, is a system developed by IBM scientists designed to mimic a human’s ability to answer questions posed in natural language that earlier this year appeared on the TV game show "Jeopardy!" and won against two human contestants.

The companies said that Watson’s ability to analyze the meaning and context of human language and process large amounts of information would assist physicians and nurses in identifying the most likely diagnosis and treatment options for their patients.

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McKesson forms new specialty health division

BY Michael Johnsen

THE WOODLANDS, Texas — McKesson on Monday announced the creation of a new division: McKesson Specialty Health.

Less than a year ago, McKesson Corporation acquired US Oncology with a vision of enhancing its customer offerings. Through integrated technology offerings, including iKnowMed, a top-ranked Web-based oncology electronic health record, and the Lynx Mobile drug inventory management system, McKesson Specialty Health hopes to improve the financial health of its customers, while empowering them to advance the science, quality and efficiency of patient care.

"Through innovative technology, clinical support and business solutions, McKesson Specialty Health offers the broadest and deepest suite of services available today, all focused on improving the health of community practices and the patients they serve," McKesson Specialty Health CEO Bruce Broussard. "We are thousands of committed experts who believe that the long-term vibrancy of community practices will be achieved through the leadership of physicians committed to clinical excellence and innovation," he said. "Our mission is to strengthen the community patient care delivery system through our deep clinical, operational and technological expertise."

"We have taken the best of McKesson Specialty Care Solutions and US Oncology to create McKesson Specialty Health, an organization that can truly help the community-based care system achieve better health," McKesson Specialty Helath president Mark Walchirk said. "Our customers now have even more ways to engage with us as suits their needs, better enabling them to secure their own future at the forefront of excellent, high-quality and efficient patient care."

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‘Contagion’ No. 1 at box office; may drive moviegoers in search of flu shots

BY Michael Johnsen

PISCATAWAY, N.J. — The blockbuster movie release of "Contagion" this past weekend may drive more people to seek out their flu shot, proposed the director of the New Jersey Center for Public Health Preparedness. "Contagion," a movie that mirrors the H1N1 pandemic of 2009, was the No. 1 movie coming out of the weekend with an estimated $23.1 million debut.

“’Contagion’ will probably scare some people but that’s not necessarily a bad thing if it motivates them to get vaccinated,” New Jersey Center for Public Health Preparedness director George DiFerdinando said. “The fact is, seasonal flu should worry people. In an ‘average’ year, the flu can kill more than 30,000 Americans and cause 200,000 hospitalizations. So, if ‘Contagion’ convinces even one more person to get vaccinated, that’s a good thing.”

Despite months of preparation by public health officials, seasonal flu remains a moving target that never takes a year off, DiFerdinando said. “The influenza virus isn’t like small pox or polio viruses that have remained the same over the years. The flu virus constantly mutates, even while it’s in your body. The virus that makes you sick could actually be different from the one you pass on to another person.”

The ability of the virus to mutate helps explain why flu seasons can be unpredictable and why some people will develop the illness even after they have been vaccinated, he said. “The seasonal flu vaccine can never be 100% effective, but it’s still very good,” DiFerdinando added. “Even if you get the flu after being vaccinated, you are likely to get a much less severe case."

This year’s vaccine will again contain one strain of influenza B virus and two strains of influenza A (including the H1N1 virus that caused the worldwide pandemic two years ago). The CDC recommends the flu vaccine for virtually all individuals who are older than six months of age.

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