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IBM Launches Watson Health Cloud, So Your Doctor Can See Your Wearable Data

The new partnership between IBM, Apple, Johnson & Johnson, and Medtronic is one more sign of a new era of data-driven medical care.

IBM Launches Watson Health Cloud, So Your Doctor Can See Your Wearable Data
[Top Photo: Pratchaya.Lee via Shutterstock]

Soon, your doctor may be able to see real-time health information from your Apple Watch or Fitbit, and IBM’s Watson–the smart computing system that once won Jeapordy!–could be the software that makes it happen.

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The company announced a new product today–Watson Health Cloud–that’s designed to give physicians, researchers, insurers, and health technology companies secure access to mountains of patient data. IBM is betting that putting that data in your doctor’s hands could both improve medical care and speed the pace of health research.

The launch includes initial partnerships with Apple (which entered into a relationship with IBM last year aimed at enterprise customers), Johnson & Johnson, and medical device giant Medtronic. IBM also acquired two new companies to help ramp up: the Cleveland Clinic’s big data spin-off Explorys and electronic medical record software provider Phytel. A new, 2000-employee Watson Health division will be set up in the Boston area.

Upon launch this week, Watson Health’s first initial use cases will include analytics and cloud storage products for Apple’s HealthKit and ResearchKit platforms for Apple Watch and iOS, intelligent coaching systems for physicians and nurses in conjunction with Johnson & Johnson, and personalized care systems for diabetes patients in partnership with Medtronic. Other health partnerships are in the works, the company says.

Watson Health Cloud also kicks off a trend industry analysts have been expecting for years: Doctors getting access to real-time health data. The company is in the middle of a pivot into one of the world’s largest cloud service providers, and IBM is banking their long-term survival on Watson and similar products. Becoming the preferred real-time data provider of hospitals, insurers, and pharmaceutical companies ensures them a massive future revenue stream. Because of the growing use of sensors, implantable devices, and personal trackers, the company says that the average person is now set to generate more than one million gigabytes of health data–the equivalent of more than 300 million books–in their lifetime.

Kyu Rhee, IBM’s chief health director, told Co.Exist: “When I first began practicing with patients at Cedars-Sinai, it was all paper-based. But we’re seeing a transformation now in health and health care, because analytics are empowering. There’s simply so much structured and unstructured data to work with.” He added that Watson Health was designed to help use the same data to improve treatment for both individuals and entire population groups.

Several other health care providers and research institutes already have relationships with Watson thanks to past pilot projects in the oncology and medical research world; these include the Mayo Clinic, the Cleveland Clinic, and the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.