The latest on IBM Watson: 7 things to know

IBM Watson has come a long way since winning "Jeopardy!" in 2011.

Watson is a cognitive computing system that understands natural language. The computer is designed to have the same learning process as humans. Watson has applications across multiple disciplines, including Watson for Clinical Trial Matching, Watson for Oncology, Watson Discovery Advisor, Watson Explorer, Watson Engagement Advisor, Watson Analytics and Watson Curator.

Watson's capabilities allow it to serve as a clinical decision support system in healthcare. Some of Watson's first forays into healthcare included partnerships with leading health systems. In February 2011, IBM collaborated with Nuance Communications to develop and commercialize Watson's analytics capabilities in the healthcare industry. Columbia University Medical Center in New York and the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore contributed to the effort. A year later, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York partnered with Watson to provide oncologists with a tool to support and improve patient treatment.

Since Watson's first partnerships in healthcare, IBM's supercomputer has pushed even further into the medical field. Here are seven recent updates on Watson.  

1. At HIMSS15 in April, IBM introduced a new healthcare unit built around Watson: IBM Watson Health, headquartered in Boston. At the time of its debut, Apple, Johnson & Johnson and Medtronic were official IBM Watson Health partners. IBM shared plans to establish the Watson Health Cloud, and the company also announced the acquisition of two health companies: population health management software provider Phytel and cloud-based integration solution provider Explorys.

2. IBM did not slow its push for Watson's healthcare capabilities after the slew of projects announced at HIMSS15. Just a month later, IBM Watson formed a partnership with Verona, Wis.-based Epic and Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. Epic will embed Watson's cognitive computing abilities into its EHR using open standards. Watson will then analyze data and compare it to stored clinical data to help clinicians make informed, real-time decisions.

"Building on our recent announcement of IBM Watson Health, we are collaborating with Epic and Mayo Clinic in another important validation of the potential of Watson to be used broadly across the healthcare industry," said Mike Rhodin, senior vice president of IBM Watson.

3. Customer relationship management provider hc1.com joined IBM Watson's ecosystem in May. Watson will power hc1.com's Patient Insights app by analyzing a patient's social information, call center logs and other demographic information to create a profile of a patient's relationship with a hospital or health system. The app then offers providers insight into customer services for patients. Eskenazi Health, based in Indianapolis, is the first hospital to adopt the Patient Insights app.

4. Watson demonstrated potential uses for oncology through its partnership with Memorial Sloan Kettering. In May, 14 additional cancer institutes partnered with IBM Watson to advance DNA analysis and personalized treatment for cancer patients. The 14 centers include:

•    Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago
•    BC Cancer Agency (Vancouver, Canada)
•    City of Hope (Duarte, Calif.)
•    Cleveland Clinic
•    Duke Cancer Institute (Durham, N.C.)
•    Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center (Omaha, Neb.)
•    McDonnell Genome Institute at Washington University in St. Louis
•    New York Genome Center
•    Sanford Health (Sioux Falls, S.D.)
•    University of Kansas Cancer Center (Kansas City)
•    University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center (Chapel Hill)
•    University of Southern California Center for Applied Molecular Medicine (Los Angeles)
•    University of Washington Medical Center (Seattle)
•    Yale Cancer Center (New Haven, Conn.)

IBM Watson expects additional cancer centers to join the program this year.

5. In June, IBM Watson continued to enrich its oncology related efforts through a new collaboration with Doctor Evidence, a clinical health research data provider. Doctor Evidence will contribute research content to the supercomputer's oncology solutions and developer ecosystem. Doctor Evidence has nearly 2 million data points collected over the span of a decade.

6. IBM Watson gained another high profile healthcare partner in July with the announcement of collaboration with CVS Health. CVS Health and IBM Watson will pair predictive analytics with Watson's cognitive computing power to focus on care management services for chronic disease patients. The solution will focus on chronic diseases and conditions including hypertension, heart disease, diabetes and obesity. CVS Health practitioners will have access to large amounts of data related to these conditions.

7. Most recently, IBM announced plans to acquire Merge Healthcare for $1 billion. The Merge transaction will be IBM's third largest healthcare-related acquisition, following the Phytel and Explorys acquisitions announced at HIMSS15. IBM expects that combining Merge's data and images with Watson's image analytics and cognitive capabilities will allow Watson to "see."

"Giving Watson 'eyes' on medical images unlocks entirely new possibilities for the industry," said John Kelly, senior vice president of IBM's research and solutions portfolio.

IBM hopes to leverage the Watson Health Cloud to analyze and cross-reference medical images against data from EHRs, genomic results, clinical studies and more. Watson's insights could allow providers in multiple specialties to pursue more personalized approaches to patient care.

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