IBM made a significant move into the health care sector with six announcements at the 2015 HIMSS Annual Conference & Exhibition this week in Chicago.
The company formed the IBM Watson Health business unit, bought health care analytics firms Explorys and Phytel and entered into agreements with Apple, Johnson & Johnson and Medtronic.
Watson is the highest profile cognitive computing platform. As opposed to traditional number-crunching computers, this approach is geared toward assessing huge amounts of data in a way that enables it, for all intents and purposes, to “understand” and meaningfully analyze the context of those inputs. If you remember, IBM Watson most famously beat human Jeopardy! champ Ken Jennings in 2011.
Since then, IBM has hosted Watson on a huge worldwide cloud infrastructure and made it available to organizations on a pay-as-you-go, on-demand basis. Having the ability to wade through and make sense of massive amounts of data will become increasingly valuable as health care meets the Internet of Things (IoT).
Among many other tasks, IBM Watson Health will aid in organizing and deducing trends from data generated by fitness trackers, exercise apps and similar devices. Purpose-built connected devices, such as heart pacemakers with embedded sensors, will also generate vital data that IBM Watson will assess.
The formation of IBM Watson Health is not the beginning of Watson’s involvement in health care. It is an extension and deepening. For instance, last year the company entered into a two-year, $7 million pilot project with the Veterans Health Administration to aid doctors in clinical decision making in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorders. The project is based in Austin, Texas.
Another example is how IBM Watson has worked since 2012 with the Cleveland Clinic. Cleveland.com describes that association and a presentation made at the 2014 Cleveland Clinic Medical Innovation Summit:
In two separate role-playing scenarios, Watson showed its agility by analyzing all of the clinical notes in the electronic medical record to create a list of health issues, prescribed medications, lab test results, previous doctor's appointments and other information – and with just a few clicks on each field, even more data that proved useful in helping physicians come up with a potential diagnosis.
In a USA Today article, Mike Rhodin, IBM Watson’s senior vice president, provided a clear illustration of how the platform can help in health care. He said that 700,000 documents related to such things as medical research, drug trials and clinical trials are published annually. Average doctors, he said, may read a few hundred. IBM Watson can assess and provide important aggregated information from all 700,000.
There’s no doubt that IBM Watson and other cognitive tools will be a big help in health care. In fact, considering that the platform recently wrote a cookbook, perhaps it can take on the toughest of all tasks: Improve hospital food.
Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.