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IBM spends $1bn to allow Watson to 'see' health problems

Acquirescloud-based medical imaging firm Merge Healthcare
IBM

IBM is to acquire a cloud-based medical imaging firm in a $1bn move to further expand the health applications of its supercomputer Watson.

It marks IBM's third major health-related deal - and its largest - since launching the Watson Health unit in April, and follows its acquisitions of population health firm Phytel and cloud based healthcare intelligence company Explorys.

The aim of its latest deal with Merge Healthcare is to boost the Watson Health Platform's abilities to analyse and interpret medical images and data, helping physicians make better patient care decisions.

Watson's image analytics and cognitive capabilities will be combined with data and images obtained from Merge Healthcare's medical imaging management platform.

IBM said this could allow it to “unlock the value of medical images to help physicians make better patient care decisions”.

John Kelly, senior vice president of the IBM Research and Solutions Portfolio, said: “Healthcare will be one of IBM's biggest growth areas over the next 10 years, which is why we are making a major investment to drive industry transformation and to facilitate a higher quality of care.

“Watson's powerful cognitive and analytic capabilities, coupled with those from Merge and our other major strategic acquisitions, position IBM to partner with healthcare providers, research institutions, biomedical companies, insurers and other organisations committed to changing the very nature of health and healthcare in the 21st century.”

A leader in its field, Merge's technology is already used by large numbers of healthcare institutions, clinical research institutes and pharma companies to manage medical images.

IBM's hopes these organisations will use the Watson Health Cloud to unearth new insights from a consolidated view of current and historical images, electronic health records, data from wearable devices and other related medical data.

“Giving Watson 'eyes' on medical images unlocks entirely new possibilities for the industry,” Kelly said.

IBM researchers estimate medical images account for at least 90% of all current medical data, but say there are challenges still to be addressed:

• The volume of medical images can be overwhelming to even the most sophisticated specialists
• Tools to help clinicians extract insights from medical images remain very limited, requiring most analysis to be done manually
• Medical images remain largely disconnected from mainstream health information.   

IBM plans to use the Watson Health Cloud to analyse and cross-reference medical images against an extensive resource of lab results, electronic health records, genomic tests, clinical studies and other health-related data sources.

Kelly said: “Medical images are some of the most complicated data sets imaginable, and there is perhaps no more important area in which researchers can apply machine learning and cognitive computing. 

“That's the real promise of cognitive computing and its artificial intelligence components - helping to make us healthier and to improve the quality of our lives.”

The deal is still subject to regulatory review and Merge shareholder approval, but is expected to be finalised later this year.

26th August 2015

From: Healthcare

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