A Computer Called Watson - Flickr

While Google and Apple may have taken earlier steps into the healthcare arena, IBM has recently made its presence known. If you are curious, take a look at how IBM is helping Novo Nordisk, Medtronic and radiologists.

Novo Nordisk and IBM Watson Health announced in December that the two companies will work together to create diabetes solutions built on the Watson Health Cloud. The agreement combines Novo Nordisk’s deep understanding of diabetes with IBM’s leadership in cognitive computing. By harnessing the potential of the Watson Health Cloud, Novo Nordisk aims to further advance its offerings to people living with diabetes and their healthcare professionals.

IBM Watson is the first commercially available cognitive computing platform and represents a new era of computing. The platform, delivered through the cloud, processes vast amounts of big data to uncover patterns and insights, understands complex questions posed in natural language, proposes evidence-based answers, and learns from each interaction. The Watson Health Cloud is a development platform for health and wellness solutions.

At last month’s International Consumer Electronics Show, IBM and Medtronic unveiled a prototype for a diabetes-management app that tests have shown may be capable of predicting hypoglycemic events as early as three hours in advance. IBM Chief Executive Officer Ginni Rometty said, “Up to three hours in advance is what prevents dangerous health events from happening.” She considers this ability to predict hypoglycemic events to be a “breakthrough.”

The app gathers a patient’s readings from Medtronic insulin pumps and glucose monitors then combines them with information taken from the individual’s activity trackers and diet. The system uses pattern recognition gleaned through IBM’s Watson to provide feedback on how a patient can manage their diabetes. The app still needs to go through regulatory review, but Rometty said it will roll out this summer.

In addition to its work with Novo Nordisk and Medtronic, IBM is developing smart software that can serve as a radiologist’s assistant. The software, code-named Avicenna, identifies anatomical features and abnormalities in medical images such as CT scans and also draws on text and other data in a patient’s medical record to suggest possible diagnoses and treatments.

Avicenna is intended to be used by cardiologists and radiologists to speed up their work and reduce errors, and is currently specialized to cardiology and breast radiology. It is currently being tested and tuned up using anonymized medical images and records.

Avicenna “looks” at medical images using a suite of different image-processing algorithms with different specialties. Some determine where a CT scan slice is taken from on a patient’s chest. Others can identify organs or label abnormalities such as blood clots.

Avicenna has a “reasoning” system that draws on the output from all those different signals to suggest possible diagnoses for a patient. It shows a summary of that reasoning to the person working with the software.

In a demo of the system at IBM’s research lab near San Jose, Avicenna took on the case of a 28-year-old woman complaining of shortness of breath. The patient’s medical record included pulmonary angiogram images of the blood vessels around her lungs, some blood tests, and text noting that her mother had experienced multiple miscarriages.

Avicenna knew that family history can be associated with a tendency to form blood clots, which can lead to miscarriages, knowledge that changed how it analyzed the angiogram images. The software suggested pulmonary embolism as the most likely diagnosis and highlighted several possible embolisms in the patient’s left and right pulmonary arteries. When a radiologist independently reviewed the same case, this expert made the same diagnosis and highlighted the same embolisms.

With all of this in the works by IBM, this bodes well for diagnosing health issues. It looks like Google and Apple have some more competition in the life science sector.


Ryan Lahti is the founder and managing principal of OrgLeader, LLC. Stay up to date on Ryan’s STEM-based organization tweets here: @ryanlahti

(Photo: A Computer Called Watson, Flickr)