Information Technology

IBM Extends Watson’s Health Capabilities

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IBM Watson Health

With a goal of advancing the quality and effectiveness of personal healthcare, IBM is establishing a Watson Health Cloud to provide a secure and open platform for physicians, researchers, insurers, and companies focused on health and wellness solutions. The HIPAA-enabled Watson Health Cloud will enable secure access to individualized insights and a more complete picture of the many factors that can affect people’s health.

Extending the company’s exclusive Watson cognitive computing platform, IBM is:

  • Entering new partnerships with leading companies including Apple, Johnson & Johnson, and Medtronic to help optimize consumer and medical devices for data collection, analysis, and feedback.
  • Acquiring Explorys and Phytel to advance its healthcare analytics capabilities.
  • Establishing a dedicated business unit—IBM Watson Health, to be headquartered in the Boston  area.

With the increasing prevalence of personal fitness trackers, connected medical devices, implantables, and other sensors that collect real-time information, the average person is likely to generate more than one million gigabytes of health-related data in their lifetime, IBM says.

However, it is difficult to connect these dynamic and constantly growing pools of information with more traditional sources such as doctor-created medical records, clinical research, and individual genomes—data sets that are fragmented and not easily shared. IBM says a highly scalable and secure global information platform is essential to pull out individualized insights to help people and providers make timely, evidence-based decisions about health-related issues.

“All this data can be overwhelming for providers and patients alike, but it also presents an unprecedented opportunity to transform the ways in which we manage our health,” says John E. Kelly III, IBM senior vice president, solutions portfolio and research, in a release. “We need better ways to tap into and analyze all of this information in real-time to benefit patients and to improve wellness globally. Only IBM has the advanced cognitive capabilities of Watson and can pull together the vast ecosystem of partners, practitioners, and researchers needed to drive change, as well as to provide the open, secure, and scalable platform needed to make it all possible.”

Capturing Real-time Data to Optimize Personalized Decision-making

IBM is collaborating with Apple, Johnson & Johnson, and Medtronic to create new health-based offerings that leverage information collected from personal health, medical, and fitness devices. The results will be better insights, real-time feedback, and recommendations to improve everything from personal health and wellness to acute and chronic care. These relationships are non-exclusive, and IBM anticipates many more companies to leverage the Watson Health Cloud platform.

IBM and Apple will expand their partnership with IBM Watson Health Cloud to provide a secure cloud platform and analytics for Apple’s HealthKit and ResearchKit. This will support health data entered by customers in iOS apps and also arm medical researchers with a secure, open data storage solution with access to IBM’s most sophisticated data analytics capabilities

Johnson & Johnson will collaborate with IBM to create intelligent coaching systems centered on preoperative and postoperative patient care, including joint replacement and spinal surgery. Solutions will be mobile-based, accessing the Watson Health Cloud and leveraging IBM Watson’s cognitive capabilities. Johnson & Johnson will also look to launch new health apps targeting chronic conditions. Medtronic will leverage the Watson Health Cloud insights platform to collaborate with IBM around delivery of new highly-personalized care management solutions for people with diabetes. The solutions will receive and analyze patient information and data from various Medtronic devices including insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitors, and use this information to provide dynamic, personalized diabetes management strategies to patients and their providers.

Acquisitions Bolster Ability to Extract and Share Deep Insights

To complement its existing capabilities, IBM has reached agreement to acquire Cleveland-based Explorys and Dallas-based Phytel, two healthcare technology companies that apply Big Data and analytics to help improve the quality of health for individuals and large population groups.

A spin-off from the Cleveland Clinic in 2009, Explorys’ secure cloud-computing platform is used by 26 major integrated healthcare systems to identify patterns in diseases, treatments, and outcomes. It integrates more than 315 billion clinical, financial, and operational data elements, spanning 50 million unique patients, 360 hospitals, and more than 317,000 providers. Market intelligence firm IDC just named Explorys global leader in Healthcare Clinical and Financial Analysis.

Phytel develops and sells cloud-based services that help healthcare providers and care teams work together to ensure care is effective and coordinated in order to meet new healthcare quality requirements and reimbursement models. It was just named the leader in the population health management category by the 2014 Best in KLAS Awards: Software & Services.

The acquisitions bolster IBM’s efforts to apply advanced analytics and cognitive computing to help primary care providers, large hospital systems and physician networks improve healthcare quality and effect healthier patient outcomes.

Terms were not disclosed for either deal.

Watson Health Unit and the Watson Health Cloud Build on Core IBM Strengths

Building on strengths in cognitive computing, analytics, security, and cloud, the new Watson Health unit aims to dramatically improve the ability of doctors, researchers, and insurers to innovate by surfacing new insights from the massive amount of personal health data being created daily.

The Watson Health Cloud platform allows this information to be anonymized, shared, and combined with a dynamic and constantly-growing aggregated view of clinical, research, and social health data. IBM and its vast ecosystem of clients, partners, and medical researchers can surface new connections between these diverse and previously siloed healthcare data sets, and spur the creation of a new generation of data-driven applications and solutions designed to advance health and wellness. Individual patients and larger health populations alike will benefit as providers share and apply those insights in real-time to drive better, faster, and less expensive treatments.

The medical community is one of the earliest adopters of Watson cognitive computing technology, where IBM has collaborated with leading hospitals and research institutes including Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, the Cleveland Clinic, the Mayo Clinic, and the New York Genome Center to advance Watson’s healthcare capabilities and to help transform how medicine is taught, researched, and practiced.

Innovative partners including Welltok, Modernizing Medicine, Pathway Genomics, and GenieMD are already using Watson’s cognitive computing capabilities, giving rise to a whole new breed of health apps that are redefining how individuals and organizations think about personal health management. Cognitive computing systems learn and interact naturally with people to extend what either humans or machine could do on their own. They help human experts make better decisions by penetrating the complexity of Big Data.

“Watson Health builds on years of collaborative relationships with leaders across the healthcare ecosystem,” says Michael Rhodin, senior vice president, IBM Watson. “The groundbreaking applications of Watson’s cognitive computing capabilities by medical clients and partners clearly demonstrated the potential to fundamentally change the quality, efficiency and effectiveness of healthcare delivery worldwide. We’re excited to broaden access to world-class technology and to work with our partners to transform health and wellness for millions of people.”

IBM will open a headquarters location for the new unit in the Boston area and expand its Watson presence in New York City. It will dedicate at least 2,000 consultants, medical practitioners, clinicians, developers and researchers to design, develop, and accelerate the adoption of Watson Health capabilities. The new unit will include IBM’s existing Smarter Care and Social Programs practice, which was created three years ago following the acquisition of Curam Software.