Healthcare Technology Featured Article

August 07, 2015

IBM Increases Watson's Medical Image Capability with the Purchase of Merge Healthcare

According to IBM research, CAT scans, X-rays and mammograms represent close to 90 percent of all medical data in healthcare. Another revealing fact this research highlighted was, radiologists who examine thousands of patient images daily generally do so separate from the rest of their medical history. By looking at only the image, instead of the entire medical history, treatments and regiments, it limits the possibility of delivering better diagnosis. The purchase of Merge Healthcare, a medical-imaging software company, will give IBM new technology that it will be able to integrate with Watson.

Watson is a cognitive technology that processes information more like a human than a computer. As the first commercially available solution delivering cognitive computing capability, it can analyze high volumes of data, understand complex questions posed to natural language and proposes evidence-based answers all delivered through the cloud.

IBM is looking to use the image analytic and cognitive capabilities of Watson by merging it with the Merge Healthcare medical imaging platform. The $1 billion purchase of the company by IBM is part of its vision for IBM Watson Health to provide cognitive computing technologies from the huge volumes of medical data that exists today and are being generated daily.

In addition to the purchase of Merge Healthcare and other medical data firms, IBM has also entered into partnerships with Apple, Johnson & Johnson, Medtronic and CVS Health to further introduce new levels of efficiency in the industry.

The analytical capabilities of IBM Watson along with Merge’s portfolio of products will give healthcare professionals a new tool for detecting abnormalities and finding the best treatment options from medical images.

The goal is to give medical professionals a better understanding of diseases so they can design therapies based on individual patients in order to improve their prognosis. Additionally, doctors, clinicians and researchers can run group analytics to attain valuable insights from patients with similar conditions.

By continuously analyzing the data that is being generated every day, Watson may be able to recognize patterns and connections responsible for different conditions. This can lead to new research, which may have been missed by medical professionals because they are not able to see the entire picture or drill down to the granular level the way a supercomputer might.

“As Watson evolves, we are tackling more complex and meaningful problems by constantly evaluating bigger and more challenging data sets. Medical images are some of the most complicated data sets imaginable, and there is perhaps no more important area in which researchers can apply machine learning and cognitive computing. That’s the real promise of cognitive computing and its artificial intelligence components – helping to make us healthier and to improve the quality of our lives,” said John Kelly, IBM’s senior vice president of research who oversees the Watson business.

Edited by Dominick Sorrentino

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