IBM’s Watson Computer To Help Health Care Providers Save Money

Aug 30, 2016

The cost of purchasing and managing vials, like those pictured left, could someday be reduced by Pittsburgh-based startup Pensiamo.
Credit Keepingtime_CA / flickr

Watson, the computer known for beating Ken Jennings at Jeopardy, is now branching into health care.

Last month, IBM Watson Health partnered with UPMC to launch a new company called Pensiamo, with the goal of saving health care providers money by better utilizing supplies and services.

“The concept of Pensiamo was to provide some cognitive analytics or some artificial intelligence to help hospitals and health system better utilize the products that the patients need,” said Pensiamo Executive Vice President of Cognitive Solutions Mary Beth Lang.

Until recently, Lang and about 140 other Pensiamo workers were employees of UPMC working on supply chain management. The company’s name, meaning “we think,” in Italian, is very fitting, she said.

“IBM’s moniker has been ‘think’ for years,” she said. “We thought it was very apropos to use ‘we think.’”

IBM's Watson computer takes on Ken Jennings on Jeopardy.
Credit IBM Research / YouTube

The data crunched by supply chain managers comes from several sources from both within and outside of the hospital.  Most of it is in the form of databases.

“The goal of Pensiamo is to consolidate that information and create aggregated views so that staff work isn’t in the lift and shift of the data,” Lang said. “It’s in the interpretation and strategic use of the data.”

But the best hospital supply chain teams also bring in additional data. They look at medical journals, search for industry trends and read clinical research.

“Looking at, is there a product shortage, is there a recall, are they using that product anywhere else in the world so we can anticipate that maybe that product might be introduced here in the United States,” Lang said.

Until now, that work had to be done by humans, because it is not all contained in spread sheets or other formats that are easily crunchable by computers. Lang said that is where the partnership with IBM takes center stage.

With Watson’s help, Lang said the savings from Pensiamo are expected to be in the 5 to 10 percent range.

“Watson Health has been able to create libraries of syntax and other ways to look at spend information and clinical practice,” Lang said. “Being able to capture that information, ingest the data in a data warehouse, or a data lake if you will, through our IBM partnership, we are able then to connect the data and turn it into insights.”

UPMC holds the majority share of Pensiamo and for now is its only client. Lang said officials expect to finalize contracts with the second and third clients soon. 

The technology is still in the development stage, but Lang said she expects Pensiamo to have its platform launched in the next quarter and analytics being produced in the same time frame.

In this week's Tech Headlines:

  • A group of former University of Pittsburgh students have been invited to Washington to show off a startup company known as HiberSense. In all, 35 companies from across the U.S. have been invited to be part the first University Startups Demo Day. HiberSense is billed as a “self-learning thermostat system.” Earlier this year, HiberSense was one of the first three startups chosen to participate in a City of Pittsburgh-supported program to explore ways to use technology to make the city more efficient and sustainable. HiberSense is in the midst of a three-month project to install its equipment in a city office building.
  • PNC Bank is in the process of upgrading its 9,000 ATMs to make them chip-compatable. EMV, or "chip" cards are harder to counterfeit. The Pittsburgh-based company said the rollout will be completed by mid-September. Both MasterCard and Visa are shifting fraud responsibility to the ATM owners this fall if they have not upgraded to read the chips. A PNC official said the switch could make it hard for companies that operate non-bank related ATMs, like those found at a bar or gas station, to stay in business.