How smart is IBM's SmarterHealth?

Few companies have the resources to think both short-term and long-term in health IT. This is what IBM sees as a competitive advantage.
Written by Dana Blankenhorn, Inactive

With all the hullabaloo over health reform, Americans may forget that the problem of health care is a global problem.

Sure sure, Germans and Brits and Canadians may pay 12 percent of GDP or less for their health care, while we pay 17 percent, and they may cover everyone, while we only cover most people, but they all have cost pressures, and aging populations, and big problems they want technology to address.

So rather than focus on what I call that "sweet, sweet stimulus cash," IBM is looking at those global problems with a series of initiatives it calls "Smarter Healthcare." (The image is from the site's homepage. It should also be noted that IBM advertises on this site.)

IBM is putting some money where its PR is, $100 million, and focusing on three key challenges:

  • Personalized medicine: Working with Europe’s Hypergenes, IBM wants to model all genetic links to hypertension and, in time, effect prevention. It's predictive health, something I've covered for several years, focused on knowing what disease processes are coming and stopping them in their tracks.
  • Best practices: IBM will work with China’s Peking University People’s Hospital to combine several disparate computer systems into a single Electronic Health Record (EHR) system that can deliver best practices to the bedside, and scale, perhaps to a national level.
  • Payments: IBM is working with NASCO, an Atlanta-based collection of Blue Shield insurers, on creating more efficient, but complete benefit plans. This would not only leapfrog the present insurance IT space, but the entire health insurance complex.

The research programs conform to the three big challenges facing health IT -- prevention, standardization, and cost controls. And for a company like IBM many of the benefits of this may appear outside the U.S.

That's because the U.S. health system isn't really a system per se, but a collection of fiefdoms with many moving parts and many different gatekeepers. Hospitals and even individual doctors can choose their own software. Integration is sketchy at best.

In Europe, Japan, and increasingly in the developing world these decisions are centralized. A treatment regimen must be proven to be cost-effective before it will be paid for. There are a small number of payment systems, maybe just one.

Right now the IBM Smarter Healthcare site is focused on the edges of some of these challenges:

  1. The patient centered medical home is a first step toward personalized medicine. It builds teams to serve both the well and the unwell, aimed at increasing wellness and keeping control of the customer when sickness happens.
  2. Data-driven diagnostics is a first step toward best practices. Right now it's simply collecting data within a hospital and accessing resources to get everyone on the same page. Eventually this extends out to entire health care systems.
  3. Integrating hospital and clinical systems around EHRs so that you have a larger system that can assure fairness to all patients and be evaluated as a whole.

Few companies have the resources to think both short-term and long-term in this area. This is what IBM sees as a competitive advantage.

But the goal is nothing less than providing the best care, the longest life, and the lowest cost for everyone. Yeah, it's pretty smart.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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