IBM forms new health data analytics unit, extends Apple partnership

With the help of Apple, acquisitions and new partnerships, Big Blue plans to tap into the vast amount of data offered by health-tracking devices.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer on
IBM, through a deepened partnership with Apple and new acquisitions, is forming a new unit to analyze and profit from healthcare data gleaned from mobile devices.

In a flurry of press releases on Monday, the analytics firm said its new Watson Health unit will provide an open platform for physicians, researchers, insurers and companies focused on healthcare, Big Data and analytics.

The HIPAA-enabled Watson Health Cloud will offer data-based insights to medical firms which can then use this data to develop new healthcare solutions.

IBM Watson Health will be headquartered in Boston, MA, and is expected to host at least 2000 consultants, medical practitioners, clinicians, developers and researchers. The new unit will also include IBM's existing Smarter Care and Social Programs practice.

Big Blue also said the firm has entered into new partnerships with companies including Apple, Johnson & Johnson and Medtronic as part of the unit's formation. The new deal with Apple will merge medical and health data gleaned from Apple devices, Apple's HealthKit and ResearchKit with the IBM Watson Health Cloud.

HealthKit brings together user health data through a variety of fitness and health-based apps on the iPhone or iPad, while ResearchKit is an open-source platform used by developers to create diagnostic and health applications.

John E. Kelly III, senior vice president of IBM's research and solutions portfolio, commented:

"Our deep understanding and history in the healthcare industry will help ensure that doctors and researchers can maximize the insights available through Apple's HealthKit and ResearchKit data. IBM's secure data storage and analytics solutions will enable doctors and researchers to draw on real-time insights from consumer health and behavioral data at a scale never before possible."

IBM hopes that the anonymous data gathered by mobile device users and analyzed will extend medical research and improve diagnostic applications.

While the tech giant already collaborates with Apple in the creation of enterprise apps and software, the firm said it now plans to extend this partnership by developing a suite of "enterprise wellness apps" using HealthKit. IBM says these IBM MobileFirst for iOS apps "will be designed for enterprises to work with their employees to better manage their health needs across acute diseases to general fitness."

Johnson & Johnson will work with IBM to create training systems focused on preoperative and postoperative patient care. In addition, the firm plans to create mobile solutions and new health applications targeting chronic conditions.

Big Blue and Medtronic's new partnership is aimed at combining data analytics and cognitive computing with diabetes medical devices and health data, in order to develop next-generation personal diabetes solutions. IBM and Medtronic say that through gathering diabetes data in real-time and combining such information with other sources including medical records, insurance claims and population health data, the companies will be able to "uncover patterns and predict health risks using advanced analytics models."

"We are building a secure, open innovation platform that could change the face of diabetes management," said Kelly. "Medtronic and IBM can marry the power of analytics, cognitive computing and patient engagement with the world's most sophisticated diabetes management devices to truly change how people with diabetes live."

IBM says these partnerships are not exclusive, and hopes to lure other companies to the Watson Health Cloud.

In addition, IBM has acquired two companies to advance its healthcare analytics capabilities. The two companies, Cleveland-based Explorys and Dallas-based Phytel, are companies which use Big Data and analytics in providing healthcare. A spin-off from the Cleveland Clinic in 2009, Explorys is the developer of a cloud computing platform used by 26 healthcare systems to identify patterns in diseases, treatments and outcomes. Phytel develops and sells cloud-based services which improves communication between healthcare providers and care teams.

The financial terms of either deal were not disclosed.

In related news, electronics manufacturer Foxconn revealed a new partnership with US medical device firm Varian Medical Systems in order to secure the rights to sell radiation treatment equipment in China.

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