Watson now open for app development

Health IT companies among the first to make use of new platform

IBM has made its Watson cognitive computing technology available as a cloud-based app development platform, and healthcare vendors are already getting in on the act.

Company officials they hope to encourage new uses of the fast-evolving technology and spur a slew of innovative apps. In this new marketplace, they say, developers of all sizes and industries can access resources – developer toolkits, educational materials and access to Watson's application programming interface – for developing Watson-powered technology of their own.

"By sharing IBM Watson's cognitive abilities with the world, we aim to fuel a new ecosystem that accelerates innovation, creativity and entrepreneurial spirit," said Michael Rhodin, senior vice president, IBM Software Solutions Group, in a press statement.

Among the first companies to take advantage of the Watson platform are two with healthcare focuses.

MD Buyline, a provider of supply chain solutions for hospitals and healthcare systems, is working on an app to allow clinical and financial users to make real-time, informed decisions about medical device purchases, to improve quality, value, outcomes and patient satisfaction. Hippocrates, powered by Watson will draw upon data sets to offer fast, evidence-based recommendations to help providers makes smart decisions.

Welltok, which specializes in what it refers to as social health management, will use the Watson technology for an app, CafeWell Concierge, that will create so-called "intelligent health itineraries" for consumers. Sponsored by health plans, health systems and retailers, these will include tailored activities, relevant content and condition management programs, and will reward users for engaging in healthy behaviors.

"Through our collaboration with IBM, I look forward to marrying the world's leading cognitive computing platform with Welltok's ever increasing volume of disparate health information such as health conversations, activity data, health content and health benefit information to push innovation and activate consumers to take charge of their health and wellbeing," said Jeff Margolis, chairman and CEO of Welltok, in a press statement.

With huge data sets at the core of Watson's capabilities, IBM will offer app developers the option to use their own data, or give them access to its IBM Watson Content Store, which can supply data-rich content that can augment an app's capabilities, officials say.

This includes Healthline, which is providing its comprehensive, contextually relevant health reference library to enable the promotion of healthy lifestyles, support disease prevention, and offer clinically significant, medically reviewed health information to everyday people so they are able to make more confident healthcare decisions.

"Together with our partners we'll spark a new class of applications that will learn from experience, improve with each interaction and outcome, and assist in solving the most complex questions facing the industry and society," said Rhodin.

[See also: Watson joins the fight against cancer]