Category Archives: Healthcare

Intel partners with OHSU in using cloud, big data to cure cancer

Intel is working with the OHSU to develop a secure, federate cloud service for healthcare practitioners treating cancer

Intel is working with the OHSU to develop a secure, federate cloud service for healthcare practitioners treating cancer

Intel is testing a cloud-based platform as a service in conjunction with the Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) that can help diagnose and treat individuals for cancer based on their genetic pre-dispositions.

The organisations want to develop a cloud service that can be used by healthcare practitioners to soak up a range of data including genetic information, data about a patient’s environment and lifestyle to deliver tailored cancer treatment plans quickly to those in need.

“The Collaborative Cancer Cloud is a precision medicine analytics platform that allows institutions to securely share patient genomic, imaging and clinical data for potentially lifesaving discoveries. It will enable large amounts of data from sites all around the world to be analyzed in a distributed way, while preserving the privacy and security of that patient data at each site,” explained Eric Dishman director of proactive health research at Intel.

“The end goal is to empower researchers and doctors to help patients receive a diagnosis based on their genome and potentially arm clinicians with the data needed for a targeted treatment plan. By 2020, we envision this happening in 24 hours — All in One Day. The focus is to help cancer centres worldwide—and eventually centers for other diseases—securely share their private clinical and research data with one another to generate larger datasets to benefit research and inform the specific treatment of their individual patients.”

Initially, Intel and the Knight Cancer Institute at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) will launch the Collaborative Cancer Cloud, but the organisations expect two more institutions will be on board by 2016.

From there, Intel said, the organisations hope to federate the cloud service with other healthcare service providers, and open it up for use to treat other diseases like Alzheimer’s.

“In the same timeframe, we also intend to deliver open source code contributions to ensure the broadest developer base possible is working on delivering interoperable solutions. Open sourcing this code will drive both interoperability across different clouds, and allow analytics across a broader set of data – resulting in better insights for personalized care,” Dishman said.

IoT security and the world of US medicine

IoT in healthcare faces its fair share of challenges

IoT in healthcare faces its fair share of challenges

Internet of Things security is anything but a homogenous concept. It is, rather, extremely dependent on the type of products being developed and – in many cases – the sort of regulatory restrictions they are subject to.

Of all the sectors where IoT is proliferating, however, it is arguably medical that is the most fraught. In medical IT, developers have to operate in a minefield of intense regulation, life and death safety issues, and an unusually high (and of course very much unwelcome) degree of scrutiny from hackers.

The hacking of medical data is a popular criminal enterprise, particularly in the US, where just last week UCLA Health hospitals say hackers may have accessed personal information and medical records of as many as 4.5 million patients.

However, while no-one would be overjoyed at the thought of something as intimate as their medical records falling into the hands of digital crooks, it is arguably the patient who has the least to worry about here. The main targets of medical data theft are US insurance companies and the institutions that administer Medicare. In the US, patients usually collect medication and leave it to pharmacists to bill the insurance companies.

A single refill for five months’ medication can easily add up to a few thousand dollars, so the rewards for effective fraud – with hackers posing as pharmacists – are large. Insurance companies, of course, foot the bill, while for those impersonated the results can cost time, stress, and in worst case scenarios a potentially dangerous delay in securing their medication.

It’s just one example of why security around medical data – medical IoT’s bread and butter – has to be so tight.

Someone extremely familiar with the territory is Sridhar Iyengar, one of the founders of AgaMatrix. At AgaMatrix, Iyengar  helped develop the first iPhone –connected medical device, a glucose monitor called iBGStar, then a revolutionary innovation for diabetes sufferers.

Nowadays Iyengar’s focus is on Misfit, a wearables company focussing on fitness rather than illness, but he is still deeply involved with issues surrounding IoT, health, and security. In September, he will attend Internet of Things Security conference in Boston as a keynote speaker, where he will draw on his expertise in diabetes to illustrate the wider challenges confronted by developers in the realm of medical IoT.

“The Holy Grail in this world of diabetes is what they call an artificial pancreas,” he says, “meaning that, if you can sense how much glucose is in your blood, you can pump in the right amount of insulin to automatically regulate it. Nobody has made a commercial version of that. Partly because the folks who make a glucose sensor are different to the folks that make the pumps and it has been  difficult for the two to cooperate due to trade secrets and the complexities of sharing the liability of devices from different manufacturers that must work in unison. The patients are left to suffer.”

In one famous incident, this frustrating discontinuity was first overcome by a “citizen scientist,” a father who hacked his diabetic child’s separate devices and was able to link the two together. While this was never marketed, it signalled that the race for a commercially viable artificial pancreas was very much on. However, while no-one would resent such intrepid ingenuity on the part of the “citizen scientist,” Iyengar points out that it is also demonstrates the devices in question were very much hackable.

“If somebody hacks into an insulin pump you could kill someone,” he says. “They overdose, they go into a coma, they die. None of these insulin pump manufacturers are going to open source anything: they can’t, because of the deadly consequences of someone hacking it.”

Ultimately, it will prove an interesting challenge to future regulators to establish precisely where to draw the line on issue such as this. Still, the capacity for others to easily take control of (for instance) a connected pacemaker is bound to generate a degree of concern.

Many of these issues are complicated by existing regulations. The US Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) requirements state that medical data can only be shared after it has been completely anonymised, which presents something of a paradox to medical IoT, and frequently requires complex architectures and dual databases, with pointers enabling healthcare professionals to blend the two together and actually make sense of them.

Issues like this mean developers can’t rely on industry standard architectures.

“You can’t rely on this network immune system that exists in the consumer software space where many different parties are vigilant in monitoring breaches and bugs because multiple vendors’ code is used by a product,” says Sridhar, picking an apt metaphor. “If you want to develop security related features you kind of have to do it yourself.”  In turn this means that, if there are breaches, you have to address them yourself. “It raises this interesting dilemma,” he says. “On the one hand the way that software’s written in the medical field, it’s supposed to be more safe. But in some situations it may backfire and the entire industry suffers.”

UK Department of Health taps Accenture, Avanade for cloud deployment

The UK Department of Health is overhauling its comms technology

The UK Department of Health is overhauling its comms technology

Department of Health in England and NHS National Services Scotland have selected Accenture and Avanade to implement a range of cloud-based communications service across England and Scotland.

The NHSmail service is being developed and deployed to enable secure communication to users of less secure systems such as non-NHS partners and patients.

“Almost 700,000 doctors, clinicians and other health and care employees already use NHSmail to communicate securely,” said Aimie Chapple, managing director for Accenture’s UK health business.

“The new improved NHSmail service will provide significant digital technology improvements to help NHS staff drive even more effective collaboration at all points of patient care. This will be one of the largest mailbox migrations ever delivered and will bring significant benefits to the way NHS employees exchange information, communicate and interact across healthcare,” she said.

The five-year deal will also see Accenture and Avanade help overhaul the department’s internal email service and deploy other cloud-based communications services across the NHS including an enterprise-wide directory and Microsoft Lync for enabling instant messaging, VOIP, audio and video communication in a bid to enhance collaboration among NHS healthcare workers across the UK.

Over the past few years the NHS has sought to lean more heavily on cloud services in a bid to improve the care services offered to patients and to reduce the cost of provision, though by its own admission it has struggled.

In the NHS’s five year plan released in November 2014 the department said past failures to successfully adopt more robust IT infrastructure and make its digital services more effective is because it hasn’t changed how it procures those technologies and services, which is where the UK government hopes programmes like G-Cloud will play a leading role, and the lack of attention paid to standards.

“Part of why progress has not been as fast as it should have been is that the NHS has oscillated between two opposite approaches to information technology adoption – neither of which now makes sense. At times we have tried highly centralised national procurements and implementations. When they have failed due to lack of local engagement and lack of sensitivity to local circumstances, we have veered to the opposite extreme of ‘letting a thousand flowers bloom’,” the Five Year Forward View reads. “The result has been systems that don’t talk to each other, and a failure to harness the shared benefits that come from interoperable systems.”

Philips health cloud lead: ‘Privacy, compliance, upgradability shaping IoT architecture’

Ad Dijkhoff says the company's healthcare cloud ingests petabytes of data, experiencing 140 million device calls on its servers each data

Ad Dijkhoff says the company’s healthcare cloud ingests petabytes of data, experiencing 140 million device calls on its servers each day

Data privacy, compliance and upgradeability are having a deep impact on the architectures being developed for the Internet of Things, according to Ad Dijkhoff, platform manager HealthSuite Device Cloud, Philips.

Dijkhoff, who formerly helped manage the electronics giant’s infrastructure as the company’s datacentre programme manager, helped develop and now manages the company’s HealthSuite device cloud, which links over 7 million healthcare devices and sensors in conjunction with social media and electronic medical health record data to a range of backend data stores and front-end applications for disease prevention and social healthcare provision.

It collects all of the data for analysis and to help generate algorithms to improve the quality of the medical advice that can be generated from it; it also opens those datastores to developers, which can tap into the cloud service using purpose-built APIs.

“People transform from being consumers to being patients, and then back to being consumers. This is a tricky problem – because how do you deal with privacy? How do you deal with identity? How do you manage all of the service providers?” Dijkhoff said.

On the infrastructure side for its healthcare cloud service Philips is working with Rackspace and Alibaba’s cloud computing unit; it started in London and the company also has small instances deployed in Chicago, Houston and Hong Kong. It started with a private cloud, in part because the technologies used meant the most straightforward transition from its hosting provider at the time, and because it was the most feasible way to adapt the company’s existing security and data privacy policies.

“These devices are all different but they all share similar challenges. They all need to be identified and authenticated, first of all. Another issue is firmware downloadability – what we saw with consumer devices and what we’re seeing in professional spaces is that these devices with be updated a number of times during a lifetime, so you need that process to be cheap and easy.”

“Data collection is the most important service of them all. It’s around getting the behaviour of the device, or sensor behavior, or the blood pressure reading or heart rate reading into a back end, but doing it in a safe and secure way.”

Dijkhoff told BCN that these issues had a deep influence architecturally, and explained that it had to adopt a more modular approach to how it deployed each component so that it could drop in cloud services where feasible – or use on-premise alternatives where necessary.

“Having to deal with legislation in different countries on data collection, how it can be handled, stored and processed, had to be built into the architecture from the very beginning, which created some pretty big challenges, and it’s probably going to be a big challenge for others moving forward with their own IoT plans,” he said. “How do you create something architecturally modular enough for that? We effectively treat data like a post office treats letters, but sometimes the addresses change and we have to account for that quickly.”

IBM closes Phytel acquisition as healthcare partnerships continue

IBM has closed its acquisition of Phytel

IBM has closed its acquisition of Phytel

IBM announced this week it has closed the acquisition of Phytel, which provides cloud-based software that helps healthcare providers and care teams coordinate activities across medical facilities by automating certain aspects of patient care.

The company originally announced the acquisition back in April, when it also bought Explorys, a provider of cognitive cloud-based analytics that provides insights for care facilities derived from datasets derived from numerous and diverse financial, operational and medical record systems.

“The acquisition of Phytel supports our goal to advance the quality and effectiveness of personal healthcare by enabling secure access to individualised insights and a more complete picture of the many factors that can affect people’s health,” said Mike Rhodin, senior vice president, IBM Watson.

At the time IBM said the acquisitions would bolster IBM’s efforts to sell advanced analytics and cognitive computing to primary care providers, large hospital systems and physician networks.

To that end the company also created a special healthcare unit within its Watson business unit to develop solution specifically for the sector and based on the company’s cognitive compute platform.

Just last week the company redoubled its efforts to target health services, this time through social health and mobile platforms. It announced a deal with Japan Post and Apple that will see Japan Post deploy custom iOS apps built by IBM Global Business Services, which will provide services like medication reminders, exercise and diet tracking, community activity scheduling and grocery shopping as part of the post group’s Watch Over service for the elderly.

IBM goes after healthcare with acquisitions, Apple HealthKit partnership, new business unit

IBM is pushing hard to bring Watson to the healthcare sector

IBM is pushing hard to bring Watson to the healthcare sector

IBM announced a slew of moves aimed at strengthening its presence in the healthcare sector including two strategic acquisitions, a HealthKit-focused partnership with Apple, and the creation of a new Watson and cloud-centric healthcare business unit.

IBM announced it has reached an agreement to acquire Explorys, which deploys cognitive cloud-based analytics on datasets derived from numerous and diverse financial, operational and medical record systems, and Phytel, which provides cloud-based software that helps healthcare providers and care teams coordinate activities across medical facilities by automating certain aspects of patient care.

The company said the acquisitions would bolster IBM’s efforts to sell advanced analytics and cognitive computing to primary care providers, large hospital systems and physician networks.

“As healthcare providers, health plans and life sciences companies face a deluge of data, they need a secure, reliable and dynamic way to share that data for new insight to deliver quality, effective healthcare for the individual,” said Mike Rhodin, senior vice president, IBM Watson. “To address this opportunity, IBM is building a holistic platform to enable the aggregation and discovery of health data to share it with those who can make a difference.”

That ‘holistic platform’ is being developed by the recently announced Watson Health unit, which as the name suggests will put IBM’s cognitive compute cloud service Watson at the heart of a number of healthcare-focused cloud storage and analytics solutions. The unit has also developed the Watson Health Cloud platform, which allows the medical data it collects to be anonymized, shared and combined with a constantly-growing aggregated set of clinical, research and social health data.

“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.”

Lastly, IBM announced an expanded partnership with Apple that will see IBM offer its Watson Health Cloud platform as a storage and analytics service for HealthKit data aggregated from iOS devices, and open the platform up for health and fitness app developers as well as medical researchers.

Many of IBM’s core technologies, which have since found their way into Watson (i.e. NLP, proprietary algorithms, etc.) are already in use by a number of pioneering medical facilities globally, so it makes sense for IBM to pitch its cognitive compute capabilities to the healthcare sector – particularly in the US, where facilities are legally incentivised to use new technologies to reduce the cost of patient care while keeping quality of service high. Commercial deals around Watson have so far been scarce, but it’s clear the company is keen to do what it can to create a market for cloud-based cognitive computing.