IBM’s cognitive technology called Watson is now making a bold move into health care, bringing new partnerships, ambitious plans and even a couple of company purchases.
For starters, Johnson & Johnson, Apple and Medtronic are the initial partners, but IBM also announced on Monday two acquisitions: Explorys and Phytel – one is a Big Data healthcare master with 50 million patients participating in projects of spotting diseases’ patterns; the other is a software maker that manages patient care and helps curb the rate of readmission into hospitals.
At its core, the IBM plan wants to use its Watson technology to create a universal cloud-based service draws from major health data collections and provides personalized insights to doctors, health care institutions, researchers, insurers and – sometime in the future – even to patients themselves.
John E. Kelly, a senior vice president and overseer at IBM’s research labs and new projects, said that enable personalized health care is going to be revolutionized with Watson.
IBM already has a portfolio of using Watson technology in various partnerships with top-notch medical centers, some of which are the Cleveland Clinic, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, and the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
Watson technology to revolutionize health care
But according to Mr. Kelly, designing the Watson Health unit is intended as a more mainstream health care program. Even though the Watson technology has already been used a useful tool in Twitter, Internet of Things and weather data, their latest project is the first step into a more narrow and specialized industry.
IBM has been really busy launching initiative after initiative, and the Watson Health announcement is the latest one. They have invested in corporate partnerships and made advances in cloud computing, but Watson has really pulled its weight as well.
All of this goes to show that IBM is set on expanding and promoting future growth. But that comes with a price – a poorer financial performance. According to Virginia M. Rometty, IBM’s chief executive, earnings have dropped considerably in the latest months, as 2015 was named a transition year to significant business growth.
For decades, IBM considered that its ample vision was to collect and analyze health data from various sources in order to take health care to a new level. But right now, both the company and the partners that joined the vision believe the pieces are finally coming together for that plan to become reality.
Economics, technology and policy changes are lining up to improve IBM’s odds of stepping forward and finally doing something more than planning. Instead of continuing to rely on the business model of fee-for-service, IBM believes in using artificial intelligence, health policies, and low-cost cloud computing is the next step in keeping patients healthy.
Sandra E. Peterson, chairman at Johnson & Johnson overseeing information technology and new wellness initiatives, said that all these elements seem to align and help this program crystallize.
Johnson & Johnson, Apple and Medtronic have big plans
For example, one of the focuses in the IBM – Johnson & Johnson partnership is intended to be health care for patients that have undergone hip and knee replacements. It will basically use Watson technology to tap into various data sources – digital wellness devices, patient records and fitness smartphone apps – in order to monitor vital signs and patient movement.
The other partner, Medtronic, plans on using this intelligent data so it can provide more than just insulin pumps and glucose monitors for its diabetes patients. Medtronic has already released digital devices which generate huge amounts of data, but the Watson software will be used to warn both patients and care providers when health is spiraling. Insulin doses will then be automatically adjusted and a new health plan can be designed.
Hooman Hakami, executive vice president overseeing Medtronic’s diabetes group, explains the vision is to provide dynamic, personalized care plans that will help stop or at least delay the progression of diabetes.
And the third initial partner, Apple, has also found a way to implement Watson technology. As it is now, the company offers a wide range of health sensors, in the form of apps and, most recently, through Apple Watch. HealthKit and ResearchKit software are the latest additions that can help researchers tap into huge amounts of health information – millions of Apple products users can opt to send their data for various studies – and Watson will be used to collect it.
However, the IBM health initiative has raised a few eyebrows on the matter of patient privacy. Commenting on the issue, Mr. Kelly explained that Watson usually scrutinizes and analyzes data typically anonymized and, most importantly, it will not remove any piece of information from the data centers it browses.
Therefore, fearing a “big, centralized database in the sky” is unfounded, and critics of health information technology support the IBM efforts. If we want a future where this initiative becomes reality, all the key players need to come together and make it happen.
Image Source: Slate