IBM announced its intention to acquire Merge Healthcare, a medical imaging and processing platform provider, which it plans to integrate with Watson. The company said the move would bolster the cognitive computing cloud’s clinical and medical capabilities.
Merge claims its technology is used at more than 7,500 US healthcare sites and many of the world’s largest clinical research institutes and pharmaceutical firms to manage and process medical images.
IBM said it plans to integrate Merge’s medical image handling technologies with the Watson Health Cloud. The company said the move would enable it to extend Watson’s analytics to medical images and create a consolidated platform to store, analyse and suggest treatments based on them, as well as cross-reference the images against a growing trove of lab results, electronic health records, clinical studies and other healthcare-related research and data.
“As a proven leader in delivering healthcare solutions for over 20 years, Merge is a tremendous addition to the Watson Health platform. Healthcare will be one of IBM’s biggest growth areas over the next 10 years, which is why we are making a major investment to drive industry transformation and to facilitate a higher quality of care,” said John Kelly, senior vice president, IBM Research and Solutions Portfolio.
“Watson’s powerful cognitive and analytic capabilities, coupled with those from Merge and our other major strategic acquisitions, position IBM to partner with healthcare providers, research institutions, biomedical companies, insurers and other organizations committed to changing the very nature of health and healthcare in the 21st century. Giving Watson ‘eyes’ on medical images unlocks entirely new possibilities for the industry.”
“Medical images are some of the most complicated data sets imaginable, and there is perhaps no more important area in which researchers can apply machine learning and cognitive computing. That’s the real promise of cognitive computing and its artificial intelligence components – helping to make us healthier and to improve the quality of our lives,” he added.
IBM sees huge potential for its Watson service in healthcare, and has moved to back that belief with a flurry of acquisitions and partnerships.
Earlier this year it bought 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, and acquired 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.
It also announced a partnership with Apple that is seeing 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.