Healthcare Technology Featured Article

April 14, 2015

IBM Establishes Watson Health Cloud Unit

Watson is one of if not the biggest developments to come out of IBM in quite some time. It's managed to destroy human beings in Jeopardy matches, and it's started to emerge into several different fields as a major resource for improving performance. Healthcare was an early target of Watson's efforts, according to reports, and now IBM is establishing the Watson Health Cloud unit that will provide a slew of benefits for physicians, for researchers, and for those connected to the healthcare market in other ways.

Watson Health Cloud will come with HIPAA capabilities, according to reports, so as to protect its contents from unauthorized view and use. As for those contents, it's protecting an absolutely staggering amount of data; IBM says that each person, on average, generates somewhere around one million gigabytes—or one full petabyte—of healthcare information in a lifetime. Trying to store that kind of information can be difficult, but accessing it in a meaningful fashion that yields useful results can be even worse. That's where Watson Health Cloud steps in.

IBM has reportedly been working with Apple, Medtronic, and Johnson & Johnson in a bid to step up devices geared toward data collection and analysis, and IBM has also picked up a couple of new companies—Phytel and Explorys—to further drive its healthcare analytics options. Details regarding the terms of those purchases were never disclosed, but the current word suggests that Phytel's breed of cloud-based solutions for healthcare and Explorys' already widely-used cloud computing platform both proved attractive for Watson Health Unit's push into healthcare.

Reports also suggest that, already, Watson Health Cloud will be working to augment Apple's HealthKit and ResearchKit tools. Watson will reportedly also be backing Johnson & Johnson's push into new health apps around chronic conditions, and Medtronic will be joining in with a particular focus on diabetes.

The value of such an arrangement is quite clear. With the sheer amount of data being generated not only by individual patients within the healthcare system, but by the healthcare system itself—everything from research about healthcare itself to research about how to modify the system for better and more efficient use—it's clear that a way to better handle that data becomes important. Mitchell Kapor once noted that trying to get information from the Internet was like trying to take a drink from a fire hydrant. It could be done—the water was right there—but it came out in such volumes that trying to get to the particular water desired, the “drink” portion, was extremely difficult. That's a problem that Watson might easily solve here, affording its users a means to better filter down information to what's needed at the time. Throw in the array of tools being developed here and we might well have the information revolution necessary to have lasting impact in healthcare.

Only time will tell just what kind of impact Watson has on the healthcare field, but everything seen so far suggests it should be big. But as staggering as it could be, IBM will have to be careful to make the tools as easy to use as they are powerful to really win here.

Edited by Dominick Sorrentino

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