The Internet has made accessing vast amounts of information both easy and affordable,and is dramatically improving the research processes of many industries. One sector in particular that has benefited from the convenient access offered by the Internet is health care.
With new innovations like electronic health records, hospitals and doctor's offices are able to compile and share medical information digitally and greatly improve their knowledge of specific diseases and treatment options. Big data initiatives are also starting to play a major role in health care, with organizations using the vast amounts of available information to draw conclusions that may otherwise have gone unseen.
IBM is now looking to throw its hat in the ring in an effort to improve sharing and analysis of health data with the creation of its Watson Health business unit. The unit, which launched in early April, aims to use big data analytics and mobile technology to help doctors, researchers, insurers and patients achieve better health outcomes. Watson Health will offer cloud-based access to IBM's Watson supercomputer to enable healthcare professionals to analyze medical data. IBM has also partnered with Apple, Johnson & Johnson and Medtronic to make it easier for health care organizations to store and analyze patient data.
Taking advantage of the data boom
"Each person creates 1 million GB of medical data throughout their lifetime."
Watson Health allows users to take advantage of the cognitive capabilities of Watson and create "new health-based offerings that leverage information collected from personal health, medical and fitness devices," providing "better insights, real-time feedback and recommendations to improve everything from personal health and wellness to acute and chronic care," according to a release from IBM.
Watson Health operates on a rather basic premise: Each person creates approximately 1 million gigabytes of medical data throughout their lifetime, so why not use that information to create positive health outcomes and fuel new research? A recent report by IDC Health Insights predicted that 80 percent of health care data will pass through the cloud at some point in its lifetime by 2020. The study went on to predict that this shift to the cloud will drive 70 percent of health care organizations to invest in consumer-facing mobile apps by 2018. With so much digital health information being created, and more being made all the time, there has never been a better time to use such data to improve health care and patients' quality of life.
The Watson supercomputer is able to adapt and learn based on information it is fed. The Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York has been inputting medical literature focused on cancer into Watson for more than three years, and the computer has used the data to learn how cancer has been treated traditionally, and perhaps eventually create new, progressive treatment options.
"What Watson can do is look at all your medical records – he has been fed and taught by all the best doctors in the world – and comes up with what are the probable diagnosis, percent of confidence, the why, rationale, odds and conflicts," said Ginni Rometty, chairman and CEO of IBM.
Rometty explained that there is differing potential for false results when diagnosing different types of cancer. Watson's first task is analyzing data on melanoma and figuring out how to determine whether a melanoma is actually cancerous.
According to Rometty, this is the ideal time to launch Watson Health because three technologies essential to the project – big data, cloud and mobility – are converging and enabling medical breakthroughs. These main technologies already comprise more than one-quarter of IBM's business and Watson Health plans to capitalize on that.