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Top 10 Health Plan Stories of 2011

Margaret Dick Tocknell, for HealthLeaders Media, December 19, 2011

6.WellPoint Hires IBM's Watson
In the hiring coup of the year WellPoint has teamed with the well-known "Jeopardy!"champ to develop computer-based solutions that will aid the delivery of evidence-based healthcare to patients. Watson, a super computer developed by IBM, can sift through about 200 million pages of data, analyze the information and provide a response in less than three seconds.

The idea is to allow physicians to easily coordinate medical data programmed into Watson with specific patient factors to help identify the most likely diagnosis and treatment options in complex cases such as cancer, diabetes, chronic heart and kidney disease.

Applications envisioned for Watson will allow healthcare providers to use the computer to consult patient medical histories, review recent test results, and compare recommended treatment protocols with the latest research findings loaded into Watson to develop the best and most effective courses of treatment with their patients.

While there have been some early complaints that using Watson will dehumanize medicine by making patients nothing more numbers on a page, for the most part the healthcare industry is taking a wait and see approach. For his part, Watson declined to comment.

 Work colleagues, who asked not to be identified, admit that Watson is a bit of a know-it-all but also credit him with being a team player who is happy to share his knowledge.

7.Health Plans Expand Medicare Advantage Holdings
Over the past 12 months three health insurers, CIGNA, Humana and WellPoint, have made significant acquisitions in the Medicare Advantage HMO market. Plans like Aetna and UnitedHealth are looking at acquisition opportunities.

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