Full disclosure: I am a shareholder in both Apple, Inc. and IBM.

Two years ago, I wrote a blog post about IBM’s “Watson”, a supercomputer, which was being used to assist in the diagnosis of health care problems.  Now, I am not suggesting that Watson might be expected to replace doctors; but rather, it can assist them in the diagnosis process.  Its high-speed computational capabilities enable it to survey tens of thousands of diagnostic possibilities in moments, and analyze patterns in order to assist the medical professionals.

On Monday, IBM announced that it was partnering with Apple, Johnson & Johnson and Medtronic to develop the Watson-in-Medicine business unit.  Additionally, IBM has acquired two start-up corporations–Cleveland’s Explorys , which is a spin-off from the Cleveland Clinic, and Dallas’ Phytel.  IBM was also previously engaged in individual projects, using Watson technology with leading medical centers, such as:  Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center; the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and the Cleveland Clinic.

Besides IBM Watson technology and its cloud-based computing, other corporations will add their technological expertise in the following areas:

Apple:  will integrate its Watson-based apps into its HealthKit and ResearchKit systems.  These tools allow for the collection of health data, and to prepare it for usage in clinical trials.

J & J:  as one of the largest makers of knee and hip replacements, it will use Watson technology to personalize concierge services to help prepare patients for surgery, and to deal with the after effects.

Medtronic:  as a maker of implantable heart devices and diabetes products, it will use Watson to create an “Internet of things” around its devices, collecting data and monitoring how they are working.

The Explorys acquisition has collected data on 50 million patients which can be used to spot patterns in diseases, treatments and outcomes.  Also, Phytel develops and utilizes software to help manage patient care, and to reduce hospital readmission rates.  All data will be collected anonymously, stored on the cloud, and no patient files will be removed from hospitals or other medical facilities.

The joining of health care and the updating of information technology to diagnose and treat patients is a sizable goal. Considering all of the related information, which has been collected on thousands of sizable computer systems–going back to the earliest days of computer technology–some sort of synthesis was long overdue.  For instance, just in oncology, there are some 170,000 clinical cancer trials going on worldwide each year.

In the past, attempts to combine health care with technology was mostly just a conglomeration of many individual efforts, and the technology, economics and health care policies were not widely-coordinated.  Previously, the health insurance systemic the U.S.  operated mostly on a fees-per-treatment model, rather than focus primarily on patients’ health.  But, advances in artificial intelligence, low-cost cloud computing and the Affordable (Health) Care Act have made the current time ideal to coordinate the many individual efforts.

The ACA has required the health care industry to make better use of computer technology, in diagnosing, treating and reporting the various activities.  Over the past two years that “Obamacare” has been available, it has enabled some 30 million previously uninsured Americans to be covered.  That is, when the various provisions of ACA, both through the Federal program and state exchanges, as well as through the expansion in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program are included.  So, with improved technology and more participants in the health care “pool”, the current a situation will surely bring even more corporate interest into the fray.


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