"Where we are with AI is 1996 of the internet—It is going to be a huge part of our lives and a huge part of our healthcare," Deborah DiSanzo, global general manager, IBM Watson Health, said Thursday at the Parks Associates Connected Health Summit.

“Artificial intelligence (AI) and health has been completely my life the past three years,” Deborah DiSanzo, global general manager, IBM Watson Health, said when she kicked off her presentation at the Parks Associates Connected Health Summit in San Diego on Thursday.

 In her session, “The optimistic future of AI in healthcare,” DiSanzo discussed the issues consumers have with staying healthy and how IBM’s Watson technology is seeking to make it easier for consumers to manage their health.

57% of Americans lack confidence that they or their loved ones will be able to afford health insurance, according to Consumer Reports, she said. 41% of Americans are not confident that they will have the access to the doctors, tests, treatments and medications they need. Additionally, 88% of consumers say they have challenges with eating healthy. But consumers are warming to using technology to help them solve these issues. For example 87% of consumers said they adopted at least one digital healthcare tool in 2017, DiSanzo said.

IBM Watson Health can help people understand healthcare costs, what is covered and not covered and where they can go for health help when they need it. “It is very complex to understand what is covered and not covered,” DiSanzo said. She noted a friend who is a healthcare professional who recently received a $3,000 bill for treatment on her meniscus because she went to a doctor nearby who she didn’t realize wasn’t covered under her insurance.

IBM Watson Health—through data, analytics and AI—can do things like scan millions of plan documents quickly, read them and understand coverage for a specific patient. Further, with its natural language processing capabilities, a consumer can explain out loud what she needs and ask questions such as which doctors she can see and what her medical fees will be.


“Watson is quite smart at reading and telling you what is in the plan documents,” DiSanzo notes.

Currently the service is used in call centers to help agents quickly answer questions correctly. The service also is being used with chat bots online. “It is improving the accuracy and efficiently of call centers,” DiSanzo said.

Where we are with AI is 1996 of the internet.

IBM Watson Health also is working with Café Well, a site and app that gives consumers personalized insights about their health and rewards them for healthy behaviors. IBM Watson Assistant uses speech-to-text technology and natural language processing to take the information a consumer provides about her health to Café Well to help her manage it better. For example, a consumer might note that she wakes and has a cup of coffee with sugar every morning, Café Well and Watson AI, might notice this trend and suggest modifications in her morning routine, DiSanzo said.

Watson Assistant can be embedded into many other similar applications, DiSanzo added. Additionally, Watson, via conversation with a consumer and natural language processing, can validate the identity of a patient in order to offer more customized assistance. Other programs can’t do this and, for example, might use an automated program to call a patient and tell them they need to visit their primary care physician—but give no reason as to why because of HIPPA privacy laws. But because Watson has the capability to validate a consumer’s identity, it can then give her more detailed information. It could say, for example, that a consumer was running low on medication and needed to visit a doctor to get a refill prescription or was due for shots.

Elderly care is another area IBM Watson Care can especially help in healthcare, DiSanzo said. In a city in Italy with a very high elderly population, IBM Research is testing putting sensors in the homes of the elderly to monitor their daily activities. These sensors, combined with and Watson AI, can learn over time about the person’s habits and be alerted when they veer from the typical routine.


For example, Watson might understand over time that the individual wakes at a certain time each morning, bushes her teeth and makes pasta. If none of these things happen, it could send an alert to the system to check on the individual. For example, a device could ask ‘Are you ok?’ ‘Are you eating’ or ‘Are you happy?’ Or it could alert a family member that the individual might need help and should be checked on.

“Using AI we can combine factors and find their find their patterns.” Further, it could analyze their speaking patterns via speech recognition to detect if there is a decline in the individual’s cognitive abilities.

Another health tool from Watson AI is helping diabetics better manage their health. 415 million adults worldwide have type I or type II diabetes, IBM says, and that total is expected to grow to more than 600 million by 2040. In the U.S. alone, $240 billion is spent every year on diabetes care.

IBM Streams, IBM’s streaming analytics service, IBM Watson Health and Medtronic, a company that develops and sells tools to help individuals with their health, worked together to develop Sugar.IQ a cognitive mobile personal assistant app that aims to provide real-time glucose insights and predictions for individuals with diabetes.

The group is also designing a tool that will process the factors that affect each individual’s personal glucose levels, such as food, sleep and stress. The aim of this app is to coach each individual by helping them make smarter glucose-related decisions, for example avoiding foods and habits that tend to cause them problems.


Medtronic is using IBM Streams to analyze the data as it flows in from the devices, develop predictive models to assess each person’s current situation and to determine the risk of their glucose levels falling outside safe thresholds. In tests with Sugar. IQ, the app could predict a hypoglycemic event with 90% accuracy.

“The internet is now 30 years old,” DiSanzo said. “Where we are with AI is 1996 of the internet. It is going to be a huge part of our lives and a huge part of our healthcare.”

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