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IBM launches Watson Health Cloud, partners with Johnson & Johnson, Medtronic and Apple for personal health

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

IBM is establishing a Watson Health Cloud that will provide a secure and open platform for physicians, researchers, insurers and companies focused on health and wellness solutions. 

The HIPAA-enabled Watson Health Cloud will enable secure access to individualized insights and a more complete picture of the many factors that can affect people’s health. Extending the company’s exclusive Watson cognitive computing platform, IBM is:

  • Entering new partnerships with Apple, Johnson & Johnson and Medtronic to help optimize consumer and medical devices for data collection, analysis and feedback;
  • Acquiring Explorys and Phytel to advance its healthcare analytics capabilities;
  • Establishing a dedicated business unit, IBM Watson Health, to be headquartered in the Boston, Mass., area.

According to IBM, with the increasing prevalence of personal fitness trackers, connected medical devices, implantables and other sensors that collect real-time information, the average person is likely to generate more than one million gigabytes of health-related data in his or her lifetime (the equivalent of more than 300 million books). 

However, it is difficult to connect these dynamic and constantly growing pools of information with more traditional sources such as doctor-created medical records, clinical research and individual genomes—data sets that are fragmented and not easily shared. A highly scalable and secure global information platform is essential to pull out individualized insights to help people and providers make timely, evidence-based decisions about health-related issues.

“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,” said John E. Kelly III, IBM senior vice president, solutions portfolio and research. “We need better ways to tap into and analyze all of this information in real-time to benefit patients and to improve wellness globally. 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 is collaborating with Apple, J&J and Medtronic to create new health-based offerings that leverage information collected from personal health, medical and fitness devices. The results will be better insights, real-time feedback and recommendations to improve everything from personal health and wellness to acute and chronic care. These relationships are non-exclusive, and IBM anticipates many more companies to leverage the Watson Health Cloud platform.

IBM and Apple will expand their partnership to provide a secure cloud platform and analytics for Apple’s HealthKit and ResearchKit to support health data entered by customers in iOS apps and arm medical researchers with a secure, open data storage solution with access to IBM’s most sophisticated data analytics capabilities.

J&J will collaborate with IBM to create intelligent coaching systems centered on pre-operative and post-operative patient care, including joint replacement and spinal surgery. Solutions will be mobile-based, accessing the Watson Health Cloud and leveraging IBM Watson’s cognitive capabilities. J&J also will look to launch new health apps targeting chronic conditions, which currently cost consumers as much as 80% of the $7 trillion global healthcare spend. 

Medtronic will leverage the Watson Health Cloud insights platform to collaborate with IBM around delivery of new highly-personalized care management solutions for people with diabetes. The solutions will receive and analyze patient information and data from various Medtronic devices including insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitors and use this information to provide dynamic, personalized diabetes management strategies to patients and their providers. 

IBM also will acquire Cleveland-based Explorys and Dallas-based Phytel, two healthcare technology companies widely recognized for applying Big Data and analytics to help improve the quality of health for individuals and large population groups.

A spinoff from the Cleveland Clinic in 2009, Explorys’ secure cloud-computing platform is used by 26 major integrated healthcare systems to identify patterns in diseases, treatments and outcomes. It integrates 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 that help healthcare providers and care teams work together to ensure care is effective and coordinated to meet new healthcare quality requirements and reimbursement models.

The acquisitions bolster IBM’s efforts to apply advanced analytics and cognitive computing to help primary care providers, large hospital systems and physician networks improve healthcare quality and effect healthier patient outcomes. Terms were not disclosed for either deal.

Building on strengths in cognitive computing, analytics, security and cloud, the new Watson Health unit aims to dramatically improve the ability of doctors, researchers and insurers to innovate by surfacing new insights from the massive amount of personal health data being created daily. 

The platform allows this information to be anonymized, shared and combined with a dynamic and constantly-growing aggregated view of clinical, research and social health data. IBM and its ecosystem of clients, partners and medical researchers can surface new connections between these diverse and previously siloed healthcare data sets and spur creation of a new generation of data-driven applications and solutions designed to advance health and wellness. Sharing and applying those insights in real-time will drive better, faster and less expensive treatments.

The medical community is one of the earliest adopters of Watson cognitive computing technology. IBM has collaborated with Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer CenterUniversity of TexasMD Anderson Cancer Center, the Cleveland Clinic, the Mayo Clinic and the New York Genome Center to advance Watson’s healthcare capabilities and help transform how medicine is taught, researched and practiced.

Innovative partners including Welltok, Modernizing Medicine, Pathway Genomics and GenieMD already are using Watson’s cognitive computing capabilities, giving rise to a whole new breed of health apps that are redefining how individuals and organizations think about personal health management. Cognitive computing systems learn and interact naturally with people to extend what either humans or machine could do on their own. They help human experts make better decisions by penetrating the complexity of Big Data.

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

IBM will open a headquarters location for the new unit in the Boston area and expand its Watson presence in New York City, dedicating at least 2,000 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, created three years ago following the acquisition of Curam Software, a provider of health and social program management solutions.

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