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May 9, 2016

Healthcare Professionals Get Cognitive Sooner with Watson Health Financed by IBM

Perhaps more than any other, the healthcare industry is undergoing dramatic upheaval. Changes in reimbursement models, continued merger and acquisition activity, regulatory requirements, and the increased focus on quality of patient care are forcing many hospitals and healthcare providers to reinvent themselves.   Patients and customers are driving change, and healthcare providers struggle to follow their lead. In short, many in the healthcare industry are working to build a new ecosystem with the patient and consumer at their core.

One of the top challenges for information technology leaders in healthcare is aligning technology capabilities with the needs of the organization, regulatory requirements and wants of the patient. That is driving tremendous interest in data analytics.

Recognizing the unique data analytics and data management challenges of healthcare providers, IBM Corporation has put a major focus on IBM Watson Health, which uses cognitive technology to help transform the way in which organizations care for patients.

This is just what the doctor ordered, as approximately 80 percent of healthcare data is essentially “invisible”1. This data either resides in an unstructured form, or it is simply inaccessible.  Information is the lifeblood of clinical decision-making.  IBM Watson Health helps organizations access data and arms them with information to support decision making.

IBM Watson Health

IBM Watson Health is pioneering a new partnership between humanity and technology with the goal of transforming global health.  Cognitive systems that understand, reason and learn are helping people expand their knowledge base, improve their productivity and deepen their expertise. With cognitive computing, healthcare professionals are able to see data that was previously hidden, and do more than was ever thought possible.

IBM Watson Health’s early activities included partnering with leading health organizations.  IBM collaborated with Nuance Communications, Columbia University Medical Center in New York, and the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore in 2011 to develop and commercialize Watson’s analytics capabilities in the healthcare industry2.

A year later, IBM worked with the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, to provide oncologists with a tool that would aid in their decision-making process as they evaluate treatments.  That was soon followed by a partnership with The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and IBM Watson Health to use cognitive computing to support  the center’s mission to eradicate cancer.

For the healthcare executive who would like to take advantage of the tremendous health data analytics and cognitive computing capabilities of IBM Watson Health, financing comes to mind.  IBM Global Financing offers simple, flexible and scalable financing options that enable the healthcare provider to put IBM Watson Health to work, including deferral of payment s for 90 days, zero percent interest rate on IBM Watson software for 12 months for credit-qualified clients, and flexible financing terms that can help the hospital or healthcare provider align the payment with when they anticipate seeing benefits from the project.

The result: healthcare organizations can start analytics projects sooner and with lower financial investment up front, reduced risk, and improved cash flow.

Specific challenges in healthcare

As the IBM research report “Redefining Boundaries”3 notes, top concerns of CIOs include industry convergence, the ‘anywhere’ workplace, rising cyber risk, the redistribution of consumer purchasing power, and perhaps most importantly – how the CIO best pays for the new technology they require to manage all the new data being created.

Patients are increasingly creating health-related data.  However, too few organizations benefit from a holistic view of that data, or insights gleaned on how it can be used to improve patient care and quality outcomes.

Growing dependence on storing and accessing patient data in the cloud is also upping the fear of cyber-attacks and data breaches. That fear is well-founded.  A number of recent IT security studies have cited healthcare as among the most prime targets of hackers.  Many breaches grabbing headlines this spring have been in the healthcare sector, including the growing threat of attackers using ransomware to take over a provider’s systems.

Evolution is happening

The IBM “Redefining Boundaries” study reveals that healthcare executives believe technology will force them to reassess nearly all aspects of the business in the next few years.

Brace yourself for “a technological onslaught,” warns Dr. Mubbashir, CIO at KPJ Healthcare in Berhad, MD.

More so than market factors, regulatory concerns, macro-economic factors, or workforce issues, technology will be the ‘game changer’ that determines whether a healthcare provider remains competitive, healthcare CEOs noted in the IBM study. The healthcare IT leader that fails to lead their organization in digital transformation will do so at their own peril, as well as that of the organization.

Technology will also play the key role in helping patients better participate in their own care decisions. Healthcare executives are looking for ways to better collaborate with external partners to drive innovation; and to leverage technologies to create more individualized patient and consumer experiences.

Further, healthcare is becoming more consumer-driven, especially with younger consumers that desire a self-service approach to healthcare care services and information. Many use FitBits and mobile devices to access data for do-it-yourself diagnosis. They want medical care “on demand,” not by appointment.

Data is king

Some industry watchers have advised that this may be one of the most challenging times ever for hospitals and healthcare providers.  These same insiders also suggest, however, the most successful in this new model will be those who can better use data to drive quality of care decisions, improve business efficiencies, reduce operational costs, and better engage patients.

This year has been termed the “Year of Action” by those in big data, meaning it is time for organizations to go beyond acquiring and creating data for its own sake. For hospitals and healthcare providers, it is time to truly use that data for better patient experiences and business results.

This year is certainly the year of action for IBM Watson Health. IBM recently purchased Truven Health Analytics, its fourth health data-related acquisition in the past year. Truven Health has more than 8,500 clients that include providers, insurers, government agencies, employers and life sciences companies.

With the purchase, Watson Health has access to Truven Health’s cost types, claims, and quality and outcomes data. The purchase also helps IBM build its repository of health data, which according to Truven Health is estimated to include data on 300 million lives4.

This is data analytics on steroids. Consider: IBM Watson Health can read 200 million documents in three seconds, and it manages one of the largest clinical data sets in the world. The numbers speak for themselves: Watson’s data set includes 317,000 providers; 315 billion data points; 2,000-plus live connectors; 1,000-plus pre-built analytics; and clinical influence on 100 million lives5.

In addition to Truven Health, IBM Watson Health has acquired Phytel (for population health management), Explorys (for cloud-hosted analytics) and Merge Healthcare (for medical imaging software). The four acquisitions add up to more than $4 billion in value.

Success is linked to managing that data

The good news is that many hospitals and healthcare providers are waking up to the new realities of staying competitive and serving patients. They are recognizing their limitations with data, and wanting to do something about it. This is fueling growing interest in predictive analytics, prescriptive analytics, and cognitive computing.

What’s the difference between data analytics and cognitive computing in healthcare?

Put simply, analytics addresses predefined problems; provides accurate and definitive answers; handles information with known semantics; deals only with known data types; and interacts in formal digital means with humans.

Cognitive computing answers problems with a margin of error; handles information without explicitly knowing semantics; allows expansion into new types of data; and interacts in natural language with humans.

A growing number of healthcare executives are placing their bet on cognitive computing, and that will have significant impact on the industry, many believe.

No easy task

Like many things worth doing, success with data analytics and cognitive computing doesn’t necessarily come easy.  According to healthcare executives, obstacles may include managing expectations, culture, fear, resistance, time, workload, people, speed, uncertainly, motivation, and risk-aversion.

So what is the healthcare IT leader to do? Several things: invest in emerging technologies with potentially higher risks but greater returns; protect competitive advantage by committing resources to key capabilities; back your ideas to the fullest extent possible to ensure buy-in and support; and seek out a technology partner that can help you best navigate and finance the process.


1HealthData Management, April 13, 2016

2 IBM to Collaborate with Nuance to Apply IBM’s “Watson” Analytics Technology to Healthcare, February 17, 2011
3 IBM Institute for Business Value, Redefining Boundaries, November 2015

4 IBM Watson Health Announces Plans to Acquire Truven Health Analytics, February 18, 2016

5 IBM and Partners to Transform Personal Health with Watson and Open Cloud, April 13, 2015