IBM, CVS Partner On Watson-Based Patient Care

A new agreement by IBM and CVS will use Watson to better manage patient care. However, there are a few concerns about privacy.

Larry Loeb, Blogger, Informationweek

July 30, 2015

3 Min Read
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IBM and CVS Health are entering into a new partnership that will see Big Blue's Watson computing engine utilized as a way to provide care management services for CVS patients suffering from chronic diseases.

The partnership, which both companies announced Thursday, is aimed at enabling health care practitioners to gain insights from a wide mix of health information sources, including medical health records, pharmacy and medical claims information, environmental factors, and fitness devices.

The goal of this is to help those suffering from long-term illnesses stick to their prescribed treatment, while cutting down on medical costs.

If successful, IBM and CVS are also looking to offer this service to insurers and other entities that serve the employer and health plan market. The two companies assert that they want to identify individuals whose health maybe declining and who may benefit from what they are calling "proactive, customized engagement programs."

The Watson-based program would also encourage patients to adopt healthy behaviors, including adherence to prescribed medicines and lifestyle regimens. It would also suggest appropriate uses of cost-effective primary care and out-patient providers.

In a prepared statement, Dr. Troyen A. Brennan, executive vice president and chief medical officer for CVS, said: "This partnership will enable us to leverage advanced technologies and key health information to develop a tool that can be applied by a variety of health care providers such as pharmacists, nurse practitioners at MinuteClinics or connected health care providers, and that can help our pharmacy benefit management clients improve member health and manage cost."

MinuteClinics are mini-medical centers staffed by nurses and located within CVS stores. And it might be that this is the true beneficiary of the partnership. By focusing on chronic medical conditions that usually require repeated treatment visits, CVS may be looking for Watson to recommend referrals to their facilities.

[Read about IBM and how it's looking to attract IoT developers.]

Such visits would probably cost less than a visit to a doctor's office for equivalent treatment, thereby "managing cost" as Brennan put it. What's notable, is that patient confidentiality has not been mentioned in announcements by the either IBM or CVS. However, CVS spokesperson Christine Cramer wrote in an email to InformationWeek: "Patient information would only be used with the patient's consent and knowledge."

When asked in an email about the direction of the program and whether or not it was simply a tool for insurers to use, Cramer responded: "It's hard to say at this point exactly how the product will be used or implemented as the partnership is just beginning. We're currently in scientific discovery and will be working with IBM to develop the best solution that can make the most impact in advancing patient care for those with chronic conditions."

About the Author(s)

Larry Loeb

Blogger, Informationweek

Larry Loeb has written for many of the last century's major "dead tree" computer magazines, having been, among other things, a consulting editor for BYTE magazine and senior editor for the launch of WebWeek. He has written a book on the Secure Electronic Transaction Internet protocol. His latest book has the commercially obligatory title of Hack Proofing XML. He's been online since uucp "bang" addressing (where the world existed relative to !decvax), serving as editor of the Macintosh Exchange on BIX and the VARBusiness Exchange. His first Mac had 128 KB of memory, which was a big step up from his first 1130, which had 4 KB, as did his first 1401. You can e-mail him at [email protected].

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