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Dr. Watson will see you now

By Jay MacDonald ·
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Posted: 10 am ET


Dave, have you had a chance to review those health insurance quotes we discussed? Dave? Dave?

The clue: "Medical consulting and health insurance." The correct question: What will IBM's superbrainiac computer Watson do after vanquishing its human opponents on the TV game show "Jeopardy"?

Insurance Journal reports that Mr. Smarty-sans-pants has already digitally signed a deal to help those pathetically slow human doctors and nurses pick up the pace when it comes to medical diagnosis and treatment options. But please take a seat: the wait for Dr. Watson's services will be approximately 18 to 24 months.

IBM's insurance industry representative Jamie Bisker sees potential for Watson to expand its world domination ... uh, I mean expertise ... to become a wise old sage-like repository of health insurance minutiae that would save time for insurance agents and brokers.

"So you could have, say, information for Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky listed. Most of the insurance regulations are probably similar, but there are differences," Bisker told Insurance Journal. "So a question-and-answering system such as Watson could be queried about, 'I want to sell a term life policy in Kentucky, could I use the same forms that I developed in Ohio?' A Watson-type system could answer that question."

Plus, Watson brings a little something extra to the table. “It wouldn’t be tired; it wouldn’t have an emotional bias, and it couldn’t be bribed,” Bisker says.

But don't worry, human agents and brokers will still be raised in-vitro… uh, I mean needed. Those silly fears of machines replacing humans are just as unfounded with Dr. Watson as they were when health insurance companies started using the Internet, Bisker insists. Although come to think of it, I haven't heard from my insurance guy since the Clinton years.

In light of the brave new world of health care reform ahead for all of us, I'd welcome Watson on the team. A little speed and precision in selecting health coverage would dovetail nicely with the Affordable Care Act's electronic records goals.

But I'm a little less enthusiastic about robo-doctoring. Probing questions are about as much probing as I'd be comfortable with from Dr. Watson, thanks.

Oh, and if you didn't catch his first name?

It's Hal.

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