IBM Creates Watson Health to Analyze Medical Data: Focus is on Hips & Diabetes | Pharmaguy's Insights Into Drug Industry News |

IBM is taking its Watson artificial-intelligence technology into health care in a big way with industry partners, a pair of acquisitions and an ambitious agenda.

The initial three industry partners are Apple, Johnson & Johnson and Medtronic. On Monday afternoon, after the close of stock trading, IBM also announced it would buy two start-ups: Explorys, a spin-off from the Cleveland Clinic whose data on 50 million patients is used to spot patterns in diseases, treatments and outcomes; and Phytel, a Dallas maker of software to manage patient care and reduce readmission rates to hospitals.

The IBM plan, put simply, is that its Watson technology will be a cloud-based service that taps vast stores of health data and delivers tailored insights to hospitals, physicians, insurers, researchers and potentially even individual patients.

“We’re going to enable personalized health care on a huge scale,” said John E. Kelly, a senior vice president who oversees IBM’s research labs and new initiatives.

IBM’s broad vision of combining and analyzing health data from varied sources to improve care has been around for decades. But the company and its partners say that technology, economics and policy changes are coming together to improve the odds of making the IBM venture a workable reality. They point to improvements in artificial intelligence, low-cost cloud computing and health policy that will reward keeping patients healthy instead of the fee-for-service model in which more treatments and procedures mean more revenue.

“Forces in health care are aligning as never before,” said Sandra E. Peterson, a group worldwide chairman at Johnson & Johnson in charge of information technology and new wellness programs. “It could be a unique moment and something like this could have real legs.”

A focus of the Johnson & Johnson partnership with IBM will be improving patient care before and after knee and hip replacements. The company will apply Watson technology to data sources ranging from patient records to digital fitness devices and smartphone applications, which can monitor movement and vital signs. “It will allow us to do much more integrated, personalized care,” Ms. Peterson said.

Medtronic, a large medical equipment maker, wants to use data intelligently to treat diabetes patients beyond providing them with its glucose monitors and insulin pumps. Medtronic devices are already digital and produce a lot of data, but the company plans to use the Watson software to spot patients trending toward trouble and automatically adjust insulin doses and send alerts to care providers and the patients themselves.

“The goal is dynamic, personalized care plans so you can delay or stop the progression of diabetes,” said Hooman Hakami, executive vice president in charge of Medtronic’s diabetes group.