New IBM population health tool aims to improve patient engagement

With an eye on improving patient engagement, IBM Watson Health this morning announced the launch of a new population health tool.

The solution, IBM Watson Care Manager, will aggregate patient data from multiple sources--including wearable devices like the Fitbit, smartscales and Apple's HealthKit and ResearchKit offerings--into the cloud, which providers can then view; it takes advantage of IBM's purchase of Phytel in April.

The goal is to push chronic disease patients to be more proactive about using wearable tools or smartphones to track their conditions daily, according to Kathleen McGroddy Goetz, vice president of partnerships and solutions at IBM Watson Health.

"Diabetes patients, in particular, typically go to see their doctors every three months," Goetz told FierceHealthIT. "You can't really have a lot of impact in a 15 minute visit every three months. There's so much that can happen with blood sugar fluctuations or other signs of impending decline. If you can actually start to get insight into what's happening with them on a regular basis, it's going to be really transformative."

In addition, Goetz called the potential of patients having more clear insight into their conditions to take more precise preventive measures powerful. "If you could take the cost of what the country spends today on things like diabetes down, that would be a significant impact," she said.

IBM Watson Health also announced collaborations with two hospitals, Boston Children's Hospital and Columbia University Medical Center. Part of the partnership with the former expands upon a preexisting relationship via the OPENPediatrics initiative, which enables providers worldwide the ability to access teaching materials in the cloud. Now, Watson question-and-answer capabilities will be available to doctors in need of "deeper levels" of information, Goetz said.

IBM and Boston Children's also will work to develop personalized medicine tools that can take advantage of Watson's genomic and imaging analytics capabilities. Last month, IBM announced a deal to acquire medical image management company Merge Healthcare for $1 billion.

At Columbia, Watson will be used to help oncologists develop personalized treatments for cancer patients.

Among other partnerships announced, IBM is teaming with global clinical research organization ICON plc to design and optimize how clinical trials are run. Watson technology not only will be used to better identify patients who meet the appropriate criteria to participate in clinical trials, but it also will help to pinpoint better trial locations.

"There are some pretty bad statistics on trials being delayed or not successful because researchers have trouble with their initial view of the kinds of patients they want to get, and then going out and recruiting them," Goetz said. "This could make the process a lot more efficient."

IBM Watson Health opened its global headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts, today, as well.

To learn more:
- here's the full announcement (.pdf)