IBM upped its entry in the health information technology sweepstakes Monday by unveiling three major partnerships and making two acquisitions designed to bolster its supercomputer Watson platform.
The Armonk, N.Y.-based computer giant said its Watson division will work with Apple, Johnson & Johnson and Medtronic to collect data, conduct analysis and give feedback on consumer and medical device applications. The company also will acquire Explorys, a cloud-computing system spun off from Cleveland Clinic that now has 26 major health system clients, and Phytel, which sells cloud-based computer services.
The company said the moves will create about 2,000 new and existing jobs in Boston and New York City devoted to healthcare analytics. IBM dubbed the new healthcare analytics division Watson Health.
“Across all industries, our analytics is $17 billion and now we'll be taking that focus into healthcare. We're not dabbling.” said Dr. John Kelly, senior vice president, solutions portfolio and research at IBM.
IBM is stepping up its presence in what has become an increasingly crowded field of software vendors seeking to help healthcare systems cope with mounting pressure to allow data sharing between systems and with patients, Companies offering cloud-based data storage and analytics solutions include SAS Institute, athenahealth and numerous smaller firms.
IBM clearly felt the need to beef up its healthcare analytics capabilities. The more significant of the two acquisitions, whose terms were not disclosed, involved Explorys, which provides secure cloud-based solutions for clinical integration and serves 360 hospitals and more than 317,000 providers, according to IBM.
In addition to Cleveland Clinic, which spun off the firm in 2009, Explorys' cloud-computing platform is used by Trinity Health, St. Joseph Health System and 23 other systems to identify patterns in diseases, treatments and outcomes.
IBM hopes the acquisitions will provide Watson Health Cloud with better tools for aggregating and analyzing clinical, health and social research data. IBM plans to invest $1 billion into the effort. Explorys “is only a small company currently,” Kelly said. “They are world class, top-ranked analytics company.”
Meanwhile, the partnerships forged with Apple, J&J and Medtronic could help IBM play a significant role in the emerging personal health information market. For instance, the IBM-Apple partnership will apply cloud services and analytics to HealthKit and ResearchKit, which are features on the new Apple Watch. Watson Health will allow users to upload de-identified personal health data for research purposes.