Novo Nordisk, the pharmaceutical giant that specialises in diabetes, is working with IBM to create a “virtual doctor.”
The virtual doctor is a supercomputer known as Watson Health. It uses a broad range of health data to generate precise treatment advice for people with diabetes, such as insulin dose calculations. Initially, the researchers plan to input data from continuous glucose monitors for the computer to use, but the potential scope is much wider: food intake, insulin injection information and exercise data could also inform the advice given out by Watson Health.
The original platform was called simply Watso, and it could process and analyse huge amounts of data and identify patterns within them. IBM launched Watson Health in early 2015, having anticipated that it could have a broad range of applications within healthcare. Watson Health has already been used to treat cancer and coach those who have undergone knee-replacement surgery. The Watson Health Cloud understands complex questions, finds answers based on evidence, and learns every time it interacts.
“Working with ambitious partners like IBM Watson Health helps us explore the opportunities presented by an increasingly digitised healthcare system,” said Jakob Riis, executive vice president of Novo Nordisk. “We aim to leverage our combined capabilities to improve the lives of people with diabetes by making the management of the condition more simple, effective and measurable.”
Can it work as well as a human doctor? Better in many ways, according to Riis, who identifies “a lot of routine issues around judgements of dosing and the whole interplay between food intake, exercise and insulin that could be better handled by AI that can draw on a much broader source of data. That is what computers typically do well.”
Not only can the computer provide advice based on ultra-precise readings of massive amounts of data – well beyond the ability of a human brain – it could be used to enhance research, according to Riis. Testing the effectiveness of Watson Health-recommended treatments could tell us a lot about who benefits from certain treatments, and why. Watson Health takes a lot of the confounding variables out of diabetes treatment statistics.
This collaboration – or at least, the concepts behind it – could revolutionise the idea of “personalised care.” Complex conditions like diabetes require treatment that takes into account the preferences, needs and traits of individual people. With access to and understanding of millions of data, Watson Health is more capable of providing personalised care than anyone or anything else.
“IBM is excited to work with Novo Nordisk, a global leader in diabetes, to help the company create new e-health solutions on the Watson Health Cloud – accessing cognitive computing to help personalise care,” said Deborah DiSanzo, general manager of IBM Watson Health.

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