By Kyu Rhee, MD, MPP
There was an interesting decision to make within IBM about what to call a new business organization that we’re announcing today. Should it be named Watson Health or Watson Healthcare?
“Health” is an aspiration, for individuals and society. “Healthcare” describes an industry primarily focused on treating diseases.
While healthcare is essential, it represents just one of many factors that determine whether people live long and healthy lives. Some other critical factors are genetics, geography, behaviors, social/environmental influences, education, and economics. Unless society takes all of these factors into account and puts the individual at the center of the healthcare system, we won’t be able to make large-scale progress in helping people feel better and live longer. So, Watson Health it is.
The name-choice matters. It signals that we and our partners in the healthcare sphere share an idea about the relationship between health and healthcare. We believe that by using data and technologies in powerful new ways and putting the individual at the center it’s possible to improve the quality of care, improve the “user” experience, deepen engagement between organizations and individuals, and reduce costs and waste.
I have been wrestling with these imperatives through my entire career, first as a National Health Service Corps physician serving underserved, high-need communities in Washington, DC and Baltimore and, more recently, in leadership positions at the US Health Resources and Services Administration, the National Institutes of Health and IBM. So I have viewed them from a variety of perspectives–those of physicians, researchers, government, employers, and, of course, personally.
One of the shortcomings of old-fashioned healthcare was that it treated the individual as a passive object. The word “patient,” a person who waits patiently for others to take care of them, indicates the powerlessness of individuals in the face of a complex system designed to treat them and pay for their treatment.
People want to be treated like individuals and to participate more actively in their healthcare. Doctors and nurses want to help people live healthier lives to prevent health problems, and to make healthcare more personal.
Another challenge is the fact that the healthcare system has been highly fragmented. While health information grows and is rapidly being digitized, the participants in the system–including physicians, healthcare delivery organizations, drug makers, insurance companies, employers, governments, and the patients–can’t share information and insights as readily as they would like to. In fact, a lot of the most valuable knowledge is tucked away in these different silos, especially the doctors and the patients who are at the core of the key, trusting relationships in healthcare.
Today, society is able to address these problems in powerful new ways because of advances in data availability, analytics, and connectivity. The emergence of Big Data enables us to gather and combine a wide variety of information, everything from individual genetics and personal health records to environmental conditions and studies of large populations over long periods of time. Analytics tools, including cognitive systems such as Watson, make it possible for us to understand all of the factors affecting health much more deeply so all the participants in the healthcare system, including the patients, can make better decisions. Cloud computing makes it easier for all parties to share and access information. And a new generation of mobile devices–including fitness trackers and other home monitoring devices–enables people to gather data about themselves and connect with health advisors and physicians anywhere, anytime.
These technologies are all essential parts of the new Watson Health business, dedicating at least 2,000 consultants, medical practitioners, technology developers and researchers to design, implement and accelerate the adoption of Watson Health products and services. It’s another example of IBM’s evolution as a company that helps transform industries and takes on society’s biggest challenges.
Here are the key elements of our strategy:
–Analytics. IBM’s Watson cognitive technologies are powerful insight-producing tools for physicians, healthcare delivery systems, pharmaceutical researchers and other health professionals. Now we’re adding to our technology portfolio by acquiring Cleveland-based Explorys and Dallas-based Phytel, two leaders in applying Big Data and analytics to improve the quality of healthcare.
–Data sharing. A new cloud-based open platform, Watson Health Cloud, will offer a foundation for data sharing across the entire spectrum of the healthcare and life sciences ecosystem, including doctors, researchers, insurers and patients–enabling all of them to share information that when analyzed could lead to better, faster, and more cost-effective decisions that improve peoples’ lives The information will be highly secure and patient’s names will be de-identified to allay privacy concerns.
–Partnerships. In addition to sharing data, it’s critical for participants in the healthcare system to combine their expertise and resources to create technology-based solutions to health and healthcare problems. Today, we’re announcing three such partnerships.
With Apple, we’re applying cloud and analytics expertise to Apple’s HealthKit apps for individual health management and ResearchKit tools for connecting medical researchers with individuals who are willing to share information.
With Johnson & Johnson, we’ll create intelligent coaching systems for physicians and nurses using Health Cloud and Watson technologies.
With Medtronic, we’re developing personalized care systems for people with diabetes. By combining sophisticated monitoring systems with analysis of an individual’s health factors, they’ll be able to take better care of themselves at home.
The medical community is one of the earliest adopters of Watson cognitive computing technology. IBM has collaborated with leading health care organizations such as Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, the Cleveland Clinic, the Mayo Clinic, and the New York Genome Center to explore the ways in which these technologies can transform how medicine is practiced and taught.
This early work has shown us the value of building an ecosystem of connected, like-minded organizations. Now, we foresee a new era of collaboration that will empower individuals with key data-driven insights, transform the healthcare system, and lead to a democratization of health and wellness.
To learn more about the new era of computing, read Smart Machines: IBM’s Watson and the Era of Cognitive Computing.