| February 27, 2019

IBM Watson Health invests $50M in research to advance AI use in healthcare

Anca Spanu

Anca's career in journalism spans over 2 decades. She has served as staff writer, editor and deputy chief editor at... Anca's career in journalism spans over 2 decades. She has served as staff writer, editor and deputy chief editor at various media outlets all over the world. At Healthcare Weekly, Anca writes about current events, innovations in the healthcare space and events/ conferences with a focus on investing & startups.

IBM Watson Health announced February 13th it plans to make a 10-year, $50 million investment in research collaborations with two separate academic centers – Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Vanderbilt University Medical Center –  to advance the science of artificial intelligence (AI) and its application to major public health issues.

If, in previous years, artificial intelligence, machine learning and population health were the main focus of the healthcare debate, now the focus seems to be shifting to the individual patients, with all efforts converging on finding ways to effectively help them, including AI powered ones.

Who are the partners in this new venture?

Watson Health is an IBM business unit dedicated to developing and implementing cognitive and data-driven technologies to advance health. IBM Watson Health technologies are trying to find solutions to address some of the world’s biggest healthcare challenges related to drug discovery, treating cancer, diabetes and more.

Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), a 793-bed teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School, is internationally recognized for its excellence and innovation in patient care, biomedical research, and education and training programs for physicians, scientists and health care professionals. BWH is also involved in the effort to improve health equity and reduce social disparities locally, being part of and promoting various global health programs.

Ranked by U.S. News & World Report as one of America’s Best Hospitals, BWH is renowned  for its multiple areas of expertise: heart and vascular care, cancer care, orthopedic and arthritis treatment, neurological and neurosurgical care, women’s health, and so on, covering practically all areas of adult medicine. Being the second largest NIH-funded hospital in the country, BWH was involved in pioneering studies and experienced many firsts, including organ transplantation and mitral valve surgery.

Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) is one of the nation’s leading academic medical centers and is the largest comprehensive health system in Tennessee. Biomedical research and training leaders in healthcare, all while delivering quality patient focused care.VUMC  has been named a Top Hospital by Truven Health Analytics 14 times and is the recipient of top accolades by the National Academies, the Magnet Recognition Program, the Leapfrog Group.

With 10 nationally-ranked adult specialty programs, VUMC has been named, in 2018, by U.S. News & World Report to the ‘Honor Roll’ of the nation’s top 20 hospitals. In 2018, U.S. News also named the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt among the nation’s ‘Best Children’s Hospitals’ with 10 out of 10 pediatric specialty programs nationally ranked.

How will the collaboration function with each of the institutions?

IBM Watson Health’s scientific collaborations with each of the medical institutions will focus on those critical health problems that could benefit more from AI solutions. IBM Watson Health intends to work towards using AI to improve the utility of electronic health records (EHRs) and claims data, but also to make a difference in significant public health issues such as patient safety, precision medicine and health equity. Physician and patient user experience and interactions with AI technologies will also be the subject of study for further improvement.

“Building on the MIT-IBM Watson Lab announced last year, this collaboration will include contributions from IBM Watson Health’s long standing commitment to scientific research and our belief that working together with the world’s leading institutions is the fastest path to develop, advance, and understand practical solutions that solve some of the world’s biggest health challenges,” said Kyu Rhee, M.D., M.P.P., vice president and chief health officer at IBM Watson Health. “Today, for example, physicians are spending an average of two hours with their electronic health records and deskwork for every hour of patient care,a phenomenon the American Medical Association says is leading to a steady increase in physician burnout. AI is the most powerful technology we have today to tackle issues like this one, but there is still a great deal of work to be done to demystify the real role of AI in healthcare with practical, proven results and clear-cut best practices. By putting the full force of our clinical and research team together with two of the world’s leading academic medical centers, we will dramatically accelerate the development of real-world AI solutions that improve workflow efficiencies and outcomes.”

“There is still a great deal of work to be done to demystify the real role of AI in healthcare with practical, proven results and clear-cut best practices,” Kyu Rhee continued. “By putting the full force of our clinical and research team together with two of the world’s leading academic medical centers, we will dramatically accelerate the development of real-world AI solutions that improve workflow efficiencies and outcomes.”

New people strengthen the team at IBM Watson Health

IBM Watson Health has great expectations for the collaboration, and is willing to put in any effort necessary to see it succeed.  
IBM Watson Health’s newly appointed vice president and chief science officer, Gretchen Purcell Jackson, M.D., Ph.D., and David Bates, M.D., M.S. will be working closely with chief of general internal medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, Kevin Johnson, M.D., M.S., chair of the department of biomedical informatics at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and Gordon Bernard, M.D., executive vice president for research, at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Each of the specialists will contribute according to their own areas of expertise and that of their respective organizations, the collaboration being a joint effort of all of them.  

“IBM Watson Health has had a long history of leading in scientific research,” said Jackson. “These collaborations give our scientists at IBM Watson Health the opportunity to work with some of the best health informatics researchers in the world to advance the field in the areas of artificial intelligence, clinical decision support, and implementation science. Medical data is expected to double every 73 days by 2020. As a practicing surgeon, I often had to make critical decisions about children’s lives without time to dig for information buried in electronic health records or sift through thousands of studies in the literature. Our collaborative research will unlock new insights that affect broad health stakeholders: from providers, payers, governments, and life science companies to ultimately the most important stakeholder, patients, and seek to improve health around the globe.”

“We all know that the future of health belongs to AI but today health around the globe is siloed and not actionable, making timely insights difficult to obtain,” explained Bates. “Through AI, we have an opportunity to do better, and our hope is to find new ways through science and partnerships with industry leaders like Watson Health to unlock the full potential of AI to improve the utility of the EHR and claims data to address major public health issues like patient safety.”

Johnson added: “I have committed my career to using health information technologies to deliver precision medicine, promote health equity, and understand the human-machine interface and opportunities to improve public health. As the largest biomedical informatics department in the U.S., we have been a longstanding leader in understanding the role and potential of new technologies like AI. We are excited to work with a leader like IBM Watson Health and we look forward to expanding the relationship as Watson Health continues to grow.”

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