IBM teams up with Bausch + Lomb on iOS app for cataract surgeons

The 163-year-old supplier of eye health products is trying to transform how surgeries are performed, from planning to post-op follow up.

The company Bausch + Lomb, which supplies eye health products like contact lenses, has already been around for 163 years, and it intends to stay at the forefront of innovation in its industry for years to come. That's why the company is turning to IBM to help it design and develop an iOS app specifically to meet the needs of cataract surgeons.

"Fundamentally, they're trying to transform how surgeries are performed today, from planning to post-op follow up," Terrel Marks, IBM's global Apple partnership lead for healthcare, said of Bausch + Lomb.

The two businesses announced their collaboration Thursday, and a pilot study testing the new app is expected to begin in late 2016.

The new app aims to help doctors streamline their workflow, starting with an easy way to compile a patient's information, including intraocular lens (IOL) calculations, biometry results and lifestyle preferences. Based off of that information, as well as historical surgical data and other patient data, the app will be able to provide doctors with clinical insights and assist with IOL selection ahead of surgery. During the actual surgery -- in which the patient's cloudy eye lens is replaced with an IOL -- doctors will be able to refer to their iPhone or iPad for notes, rather than the printed out notes that they typically carry into the operating room.

Eventually, IBM plans to optimize the app to collect data over time to become fully cognitive, with machine-based learning and predictive analytics to help doctors in real time. There's no specific timeline for that, Marks said.

And while IBM could at some point use the data it collects for other purposes, after obtaining the necessary consent from patients, that's not part of the plan, Marks said. The patient data will be used strictly assist cataract surgeons using the app, and it will be stored on IBM's secure cloud environment.

"We're commited to data privacy and protecting the interest of the patient," Marks said.

The app is the latest to come out of the deal between Apple and IBM, struck in 2014, to create a range of industry-specific enterprise iOS apps. There are already seven healthcare-related iOS apps -- designed for nurses, technicians and other healthcare professionals -- and five more watchOS apps for the healthcare industry. As companies like IBM and Google expand the use of machine learning, the healthcare sector is sure to see some profound changes.

Meanwhile, Bausch + Lomb can feel confident that their app will have a growing audience. Cataracts already affect more than 22 million Americans, and that number is expected to grow to 30 million by 2020.