In the unlikely instance that we needed confirmation of the lucrative nature of the digital healthcare market, look no further than yesterday’s flurry of announcements and alliances coming out of IBM.
Operating under the banner of a dedicated unit called Watson Health, Big Blue is teaming up with Apple, Johnson & Johnson and Medtronic Inc., as well as opening up its corporate wallet to snap up two healthcare analytics companies, Explorys and Phytel.
IBM is setting up the is establishing the HIPAA-enabled Watson Health Cloud which it says will:
provide a secure and open platform for physicians, researchers, insurers and companies focused on health and wellness solutions.
IBM has identified the medical and healthcare sector as an early adopter of Watson’s cognitive computing capabilities. Michael Rhodin, senior vice president, IBM Watson, commented:
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.
Away from the mission statments and in real terms, it’s all about Big Data and setting up a platform that can tap into and analyse health-related data held in siloed formats around the world.
John E. Kelly III, IBM senior vice president, solutions portfolio and research, explained in a statement:
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. We need better ways to tap into and analyze all of this information in real-time to benefit patients and to improve wellness globally.
And with the obligatory rhetoric required, he added:
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.
Hence the tie-ups with Apple, Johnson & Johnson and Medtronic. These are designated ‘non-exclusive’ realtionships and IBM is looking to sign up more partners over time. As for the first three, each has specific objectives to fulfil:
IBM and Apple will deliver a secure cloud platform and analytics for Apple's HealthKit and ResearchKit to support health data entered by customers in iOS apps. The health and wellbeing functionality of the Apple Watch is clearly key here as well as Apple’s HealthKit platform. Indeed, Rhodin made it clear he's tapping into the kind of demographic an Apple Watch wearer is supposed to be:
The generation who buy Apple Watches are interested in data philanthropy. Many of them have been touched by relatives or parents struck down by disease. Why wouldn’t they help researchers figure out what’s going on?”
Johnson & Johnson is set to create mobile intelligent coaching systems centered on preoperative and postoperative patient care, including joint replacement and spinal surgery., as well as launching new health apps targeting chronic conditions.
Medtronic will leverage the Watson Health Cloud to deliver personalized care management solutions for people with diabetes.
As for the two acquisitions:
- Explorys, spun-off from the Cleveland Clinic in 2009, provides a secure cloud-computing platform currently used by 26 major integrated healthcare systems to identify patterns in diseases, treatments and outcomes. It claims to be able tot integrate more than 315 billion clinical, financial, and operational data elements, spanning 50 million unique patients, 360 hospitals, and more than 317,000 providers.
- Phytel develops and sells cloud-based services for healthcare providers and care teams to work together to ensure care is effective and coordinated in order to meet new healthcare quality requirements and reimbursement models.
IBM’s plans can’t be faulted for their ambitions. As well as opening a headquarters location for the new unit in the Boston area and expanding its Watson presence in New York City, it plans to scale up 2000 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 set up following the acquisition of Curam Software three years ago.
An interesting set of announcements in a fascinating sector on the cusp of mainstream digital transformation. Drawing a line in the sand will be a crucial success factor. IBM may well have placed its stick in the sand at least.