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Tapping Watson’s computing power for health

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There is a new push into the potentially lucrative world of health data analytics. In collaboration with Apple, Johnson & Johnson and Medtronic, IBM has launched what it calls the “Watson Health Cloud,” a service it believes will help you and me be healthier.

Let’s face it, when it comes to data, healthcare – as an industry – is still in the crawling stage.

“When you go to your doctor today, you see computers on the tables, in the exam rooms,” says Dr. Atul Butte, who’s at the University of California San Francisco. “And doctors and nurses are entering a lot of data about patients, but the average amount of data is probably never looked at again.”

Butte says the Watson Health Cloud is an effort to mine the gold in that data that’s currently just sitting around. The promise is to gather distinct data threads, from heart rates measured by Apple Watches to blood pressure levels in the ICU, and weave them all together. That, says Dr. Kyu Rhee, IBM’s chief health officer, will give insurers, doctors and patients something illusive: a clearer picture of one person’s health. “The extraordinary opportunity we have with the data available, the knowledge that exists, to be able to connect that, that’s what this is fundamentally about,” he says.

IBM hopes to work with hospitals and insurers. Apple wants a seat at the adult’s healthcare table. And for Johnson & Johnson and Medtronic, it’s a chance to gauge product performance in the field. Industry analyst Tim Barjarin of Creative Strategies says other companies are offering similar services, but these behemoths are well positioned.

“The belief right now is that Apple could sell anywhere from 15 to 20 million smart watches in just the first year,” he says, meaning Apple and IBM could create the “gold standard” in this sector.

Barjarin says if these guys can pull it off, healthcare’s use of data may finally be ready to graduate to the walking stage.

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