IBM Watson Partners with Apple to Enhance Healthcare

After a lot of speculation, promises, and demonstrations, IBM has formally announced it will be entering the healthcare market with its Watson supercomputer. The company has announced a series of partnerships -- including ones with Apple, Johnson & Johnson, and major medical device manufacturer Medtronic that will allow it to establish the Watson Health Cloud, a Big Data healthcare platform that will offer insights at all levels to everyone from engineers and researchers to doctors and insurers.

IBM estimates that with the increasing prevalence of fitness trackers, connected medical devices, implants, and embedded sensors, the average patient-consumer will generate over one million gigabytes of health-related data in their lifetime. "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," John E. Kelly III, IBM senior vice president, solutions portfolio and research, said in a press release.

Rather than attacking healthcare from the hardware end as new entrants into the field like Apple, Google, and Intel are attempting to do, IBM wants to use Watson to augment existing devices and provide insights for companies looking to improve future iterations of their devices.

Earlier this year Apple announced it is expanding its healthcare efforts beyond its HealthKit family of apps, and released ResearchKit, designed to collect medical data from iPhones and other Apple devices that can then be accessed by medical researchers when users opt-in. With its new partnership, IBM will provide a HIPAA-compliant cloud storage platform and analytics done via Watson for health data collected through Apple iOS devices.

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IBM will also be collaborating with Johnson & Johnson and Medtronic to collect and analyze data collected from various medical devices using Watson's cognitive computing abilities. Areas of interest include pre- and postoperative patient care, glucose monitoring for diabetes, and creating personalized devices for patients.

This latest development from IBM comes as an offshoot of the company's earlier Watson Developers Cloud program in which app developers where invited to create applications that utilize Watson via the cloud. Early entrants into the program created Watson apps for managing supply chain purchases, assisting with online shopping, and helping users manage their diet and activity.

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Last year at the Milken Institute Global Conference 2014 IBM also demonstrated Watson's usefulness as a diagnostic aid with a function called Watson Debater. In the live demonstration Watson was able to form pro and con arguments to a debate question by drawing from a series of Wikipedia articles. Kelly pointed out the same technology behind Watson Debater could enable the computer to assist doctors with diagnoses by drawing on information from medical texts, journals, and information provided by caregivers.

In conjunction with this new announcement around Watson, IBM will also be opening new headquarters in Boston and expanding its Watson presence in New York City -- employing at least 2000 consultants, medical practitioners, clinicians, developers, and researchers to design, develop, and accelerate the adoption of Watson Health capabilities.

Chris Wiltz is the Managing Editor of Design News

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