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IBM sets up Watson Health unit to advance its data ambitions

Will also partner with Apple, J&J and Medtronic and acquire two big data companies

IBM Watson Health big data 
Pictured: Leanne LeBlanc, IBM Watson project manager, views analytics of healthcare data at Watson headquarters in New York City

IBM has forged ahead with its health ambitions, setting up a dedicated health unit based around supercomputer Watson and signing development deals with the likes of Johnson & Johnson and Apple.

The company will base its new IBM Watson Health unit around Boston in the US and expand its existing Watson presence in New York. All told the company says at least 2000 consultants, medical practitioners, clinicians, developers and researchers will be involved in designing and developing Watson Health capabilities.

Watson, which famously beat human contestants on the US game show Jeopardy two years ago, can digest huge amounts of information in a similar way to how people think - a process known as cognitive computing.

Michael Rhodin, senior vice president at IBM Watson, said: “Watson Health builds on years of collaborative relationships with leaders across the healthcare ecosystem.

“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.”

At the heart of the IT firm's moves is its new Watson Health Cloud platform, which will says will offer “secure access to individualised insights and a more complete picture of the many factors that can affect people's health”.

IBM wants to offer a way of tapping into, and analysing, the huge amounts of healthcare information that patients, healthcare professionals and researchers now generate.

Apple, Johnson & Johnson and Medtronic deals

As part of IBM's big data mission it also announced three headline-grabbing collaborations with Apple, Johnson & Johnson and Medtronic to create new health tools and services based on information collected from personal health, medical and fitness devices.

IBM will expand its existing partnership with Apple, with its Watson Health Cloud providing a cloud platform and analytics for Apple's HealthKit and ResearchKit.

Johnson & Johnson will collaborate with IBM on mobile-based coaching systems for preoperative and postoperative patient care in areas such as joint replacement and spinal surgery. IBM said Johnson & Johnson would also be looking to launch a range of new health apps aimed at chronic conditions.

Finally, Medtronic will use the Watson Health Cloud for personalised diabetes care programmes that can analyse patient data from Medtronic devices, including insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitors, and turn this into diabetes management strategies for patients and healthcare providers.

Hooman Hakami, executive vice president and president of the Diabetes Group at Medtronic, said: “Devices alone cannot transform diabetes care. The combination of leadership technologies, big data, informatics and world-class patient management are all required to drive effective results in diabetes care.

“Medtronic and IBM intend to bring these capabilities together to pioneer a new level of care that will improve outcomes and lower cost so people living with diabetes can enjoy greater freedom and better health.”

The agreements - which add to relationships with UCB and two US medical practices - are non-exclusive and IBM said it expects “many more companies” will want to collaborate on the Watson Health Cloud platform.

The slew of new deals also includes IBM's acquisition, for undisclosed amounts, of two US big data companies to advance its healthcare analytics capabilities.

Cleveland-based Explorys has a secure cloud-computing platform that can identify patterns in diseases, treatments and outcomes and integrates more than 315 billion clinical, financial, and operational data elements.

IBM has also bought Dallas-based Phytel, which develops and sells cloud-based services for healthcare providers and care teams to ensure care is effective and coordinated.

14th April 2015

From: Healthcare

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