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.