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IBM partners with CVS to predict who's at risk for diabetes

Supercomputing your health

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CVS is turning to IBM’s thirstiest supercomputer, Watson, to see if it can predict which customers are at risk chronic illnesses, such as diabetes.

For CVS customers who opt into the service, Watson will use data gathered from their medical records, prescriptions, and fitness devices to suggest ways in which they might improve their health. More incredibly, IBM says Watson might also be able to use predictive analytics to determine which customers are at risk of developing a chronic illness, such hypertension and obesity.

Individualizing the health advice CVS gives its customers

By combining health data from multiple sources, the service will improve health outcomes, and lower the cost of health care, says Steve Gold, vice president of IBM's Watson Group. "That's a pretty heavy claim, but it's one that we feel is worth going after."

Under this partnership, IBM and CVS will work together to develop a platform that CVS will use internally to individualize the health advice pharmacists give to their customers. The companies don’t know yet what their first application will be, but they will focus on diseases like diabetes and hypertension, Gold says. The partnership may also yield a mobile app that will connect customers more directly to the Watson-powered service.

"What's different about this is that I may see my doctor twice or three times a year, but I see my pharmacist three times a month," Gold says. Simply by virtue of seeing their pharmacists more frequently, people who sign up for the service may have a greater opportunity to improve their health before an illness takes hold. "It's about making a more connected community."

"It's about making a more connected community."

CVS Health owns 7,800 retail drugstores, and almost 1,000 walk-in medical clinics, which means the service could end up being used by millions of Americans. IBM says it will take every precaution to protect customer data, and people will have the option to contribute anonymous data to the project if they wish. Just how much of this collaboration will end up helping people, instead of simply being used to sell CVS's products is unclear.