IBM Watson Health looks toward the future at HIMSS17, highlighting partnerships, patient success stories

The cognitive platform is making big headway on everything from Type 1 diabetes to aortic stenosis, precision medicine to advanced imaging, thanks to its relationships with companies such as Medtronic, Welltok and Merge.
By Mike Miliard
01:41 PM
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IBM Watson Health HIMSS17

Kyu Rhee, MD, chief health officer at IBM

Hard to believe, but it's now been six years since IBM's Watson competed (and won) on Jeopardy and, soon thereafter, was one of the big splashes at HIMSS11, where Big Blue announced a partnership with Nuance to take clinical decision support to the next level.

Among many other demonstrations and announcements this year at HIMSS17, IBM Watson Health will be "celebrating and highlighting what we've accomplished since then – and that's quite a bit," said Kyu Rhee, MD, chief health officer at IBM.

Even more importantly, of course, the company plans to look to the future, said Rhee, "not only the next few years, but way beyond."

Chief among the other busy goings-on for IBM in Orlando will be CEO Ginni Rometty's opening keynote on Monday, Feb. 20. She's expected to focus on the value of data – what she calls the "world’s most valuable new natural resource" – and on the ways cognitive computing is harnessing healthcare data to advance value-based care, population health, precision medicine and more.

[Also: IBM CEO Ginni Rometty promises 25,000 'new collar' jobs]

Back at the IBM booth (#1809) attendees can see real-life examples of that, with theater presentations focused on patient stories, "who we're impacting," said Rhee, adding that many of these initiatives stem directly from collaborations with other health IT vendors

"Partnerships are core to what we're delivering in terms of cognitive insights," said Rhee.

For instance, one of Watson Health's first team-ups with was with device company Medtronic. The two have since gone on to develop an app, Sugar.IQ, to help diabetics manage their condition.

The companies work together to "help them look at the ways in which they can make sure their diabetes is in control and manage things like hypoglycemic episodes – able to demonstrate an extraordinary accuracy in predicting that, using the power of cognitive," said Rhee.

Another longtime partner is Welltok, whose patient engagement app, CaféWell, helps bring disparate sources of data together to personalize "health nudges" for an individual, he said. "We'll get a story from a patient who is using Welltok's concierge app to optimize their own health: dining options, being physically active, managing their stress in a comprehensive, holistic and personalized way."

In the summer of 2015, IBM acquired Merge Healthcare, a developer of imaging IT. In the months since, IBM researcher Tanveer Syeda-Mahmood "has been leading our efforts with Watson and its 'eyes' and it's cognitive analytics around imaging," said Rhee, adding that Watson's abilities to find abnormalities in X-rays and MRIs continues to advance – and will soon be available in a new tool.

[Also: IBM Watson Health, Merge launch new personalized imaging tools]

"We've got a demonstration of how it's applied to aortic stenosis," he explained. "We've looked at images, echocardiograms, looked at evidence-based AHA guidelines related to aortic stenosis, and we're going to highlight how this is going to be the first cognitive product release from Watson Health imaging.

"Also, we're pulling in data from electronic health records and other sources to be able to give augmented intelligence to a provider: something he needs to be aware of related to aortic stenosis," he added. "We were able to discover about 99 new cases through our cognitive analytics."

And of course, there will be a big genomics focus in the booth, as the path-blazing trend of precision medicine continues. One of the big components of President Obama's Precision Medicine Initiative was a partnership between IBM and the New York Genome Center to create open repository of genetic data to accelerate precision oncology using insights from Watson.

By processing massive amounts of data, Watson is more and more able to arrive at new insights – able to spotlight clinical trials that are available, drugs that could be administered, other treatment options that "are relevant and should be considered," said Rhee. "It's becoming a standard of care."

One other facet of healthcare technology that continues to be top-of-mind for IBM: data security – especially as the ecosystem of Watson collaborators continues to grow.

"Part of what we've been able to do as a company for 105 years is build trust," said Rhee. "A lot of trust is based on how you're taking care of your data. We're going to have to think of it differently and creatively, in ways that preserve that trust."


This article is part of our ongoing coverage of HIMSS17. Visit Destination HIMSS17 for previews, reporting live from the show floor and after the conference.


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