IBM recently announced separate agreements with Apple Inc., Johnson & Johnson (J&J) and Medtronic Inc. to aggregate health data from different apps and devices into a secure, cloud-based platform. The “big data” platform would allow patients, providers, insurers and companies to share information and glean insights from the massive amount of health data generated by millions of devices today to achieve personalized, affordable, and more effective treatments.
In a press release, IBM said it is establishing a new health unit called IBM Watson Health that leverages the data analytics prowess of its Watson supercomputer to pool and analyze the huge amount of fragmented health data from consumer and medical devices, trackers, apps, and sensors. Among its early partners in this initiative include Apple, J&J, and Medtronic — all important players in the healthcare and medical device spaces.
“We need better ways to tap into and analyze all of this information in real-time to benefit patients and to improve wellness globally," said John E. Kelly III, IBM senior VP, solutions portfolio and research, in the statement. "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."
IBM said that it will extend its existing partnership with Apple by providing the platform and analytics for Apple's HealthKit and ResearchKit platforms, where users who use health apps in their iPads and iPhones can share health data with doctors and researchers.
J&J will be working with IBM to develop virtual wellness coaching solutions centered on preoperative and postoperative patient care for joint replacement and spine surgeries, according to a J&J statement. For example, those who receive J&J DePuy's orthopedic implants can utilize mobile, Watson-integrated apps to help them deal with the after effects of surgery. J&J will also utilize Watson Health’s diverse data sets to create new models that predict patient responses to medical interventions, according to its statement.
Medtronic said in a statement that it will use Watson's new cloud platform and powerful analytics to develop a new generation of personalized diabetes management solutions. The solutions will pull data from devices such as insulin pumps and Watson will analyze the information.
"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," said Hooman Hakami, executive VP and president of the Diabetes Group at Medtronic. "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."
IBM also announced the acquisition of Cleveland-based Explorys and Dallas-based Phytel to bolster its advanced analytics and cognitive computing capabilities.
In its press release, IBM noted that the medical community is one of the earliest adopters of Watson cognitive computing technology, and this latest initiative strengthens its partnerships with industry leaders. IBM, with its big data science expertise, considers itself in a unique position to transform healthcare delivery.
“I think that ultimately somebody’s going to figure out how to integrate all these sources of data, analyze them, sort the signal to noise, and when someone can do that, it will improve the health care system,” Robert Wachter, the author of The Digital Doctor: Hope, Hype, and Harm at the Dawn of Medicine’s Computer Age and associate chair of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), said in a Forbes article.
“Does this do that tomorrow? No. But do we need to create the infrastructure to do that? Yes. And are they probably the best-positioned company with the best track record to do this? I think so,” he added.