CVS Health to Integrate IBM's Watson to Enhance Chronic Disease Management

Pharmacy Times, October 2015 Diabetes, Volume 81, Issue 10

CVS Health and IBM have forged a partnership to leverage technology in chronic disease prevention and management.

CVS Health and IBM have forged a partnership to leverage technology in chronic disease prevention and management. The pharmacy giant intends to use the Watson cognitive computing technology, which originally rose to fame in 2011 by besting 2 Jeopardy champions, to predict medical emergencies among patients with chronic diseases before they occur, based on physiological indicators and red flag behaviors.

To develop this algorithm, CVS Health will allow Watson to have access to millions of data points from patient clinical records, filed claims, and wearable devices. Access to this information will assist nurses, pharmacists, and payers in gaining insight into individual patient profiles and mitigating their health risks.

Streamlined access to individual patient profiles creates a space for personalized care development. Armed with this information, providers can avoid unneeded and costly medical interventions and help predict health decline for chronic conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. On its website, IBM touts Watson Health as a tool to empower individuals “to understand more about their health, while doctors, researchers, and insurers can make better, faster, and more cost-effective decisions.”

In a joint press release, the companies said the partnership “would enable health care practitioners to quickly and easily gain insights from an unprecedented mix of health information, environmental factors, and fitness devices to help individuals stay on track with their care and meet health goals.”

The potential reach of the technology partnership is expansive: CVS Health has 76,000 retail locations, nearly 1000 walk-in medical clinics, and a pharmacy program with more than 70 million patient participants— or roughly 22% of the total US population. Therefore, the potential effect of more cost-effective decisionmaking with respect to the chronic disease management market in the United States is also substantial. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly half of all adults—or 117 million individuals—had 1 or more chronic health conditions as of 2012. By 2030, the agency estimates that about 171 million individuals will live with chronic conditions. Overall, the CDC indicates that 86% of the $2.9 trillion in US annual health spending is directed toward providing care for patients with chronic conditions.

The use of predictive analytics in the US health care sector is not without precedent. Health insurance companies such as UnitedHealth Group and Aetna have already been using them to a certain extent to manage patient populations in an effort to reduce hospital readmissions and improve patient outcomes. This change coincides with the health industry’s shift from freefor- service treatment to value-based reimbursement policies.

CVS Health Chief Medical Officer Troyen A. Brennan, MD, said in a press release, “This partnership will enable us to leverage advanced technologies and key health information to develop a tool that can be applied by a variety of health care providers, such as pharmacists, nurse practitioners at MinuteClinics, or connected health care providers, and that can help our pharmacy benefit-management clients improve member health and manage cost.”

The partnership comes amid a worsening shortage of primary care physicians and mounting evidence that community pharmacists play an increasingly integral role in chronic disease management and can improve patient outcomes in an evolving treatment landscape.