What IBM Watson Health Hopes to Accomplish Through $50M in Deals with Brigham & Women's, Vanderbilt

Jared Kaltwasser
FEBRUARY 27, 2019
ibm watson health,ibm watson harvard,ibm watson vanderbilt
Photo has been altered. Courtesy of IBM Watson Health.

IBM Watson Health is investing $50 million in a pair of new artificial-intelligence-focused partnerships with academic medical institutions.

IBM Watson Health said it will work with Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital (the teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School), and Vanderbilt University Medical Center, in Nashville, Tennessee, on efforts to leverage AI to fix major public health issues. The new collaborations follow a partnership between IBM Watson Health and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which was announced last year.

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In a press release announcing the new partnerships, IBM Watson Health Vice President and Chief Health Officer Kyu Rhee, M.D., MPP, said one of the major issues AI can ameliorate is the lengthy amount of time physicians spend completing deskwork associated with electronic health records.

“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,” he said.

The moves come more than six months of undesirable news, in which IBM Health’s head departed, laid-off workers criticized the company’s technology and news surfaced revealing that Watson had recommended potentially harmful cancer treatments in the past.

In an email to Inside Digital Health™, IBM Watson Health spokesperson Rachel Ford Hutman said Brigham and Women’s and Vanderbilt were chosen for the collaborations because their specific areas of institutional expertise matched IBM Watson Health’s priorities.

At Brigham and Women’s, the company will work with David Bates, M.D., M.S., the hospital’s chief of general internal medicine and a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

Hutman said Bates is “an internationally renowned expert in patient safety and using technology to improve care. Accordingly, our work with Brigham and Women’s will center on patient safety and physician workflow.”

In a press release, Bates said “the future of health belongs to AI” but added that the healthcare industry is too siloed, which makes it difficult to glean actionable data-driven insights.

"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,” he said.

At Vanderbilt, IBM Watson Health will work closely with Kevin Johnson, M.D., M.S., a bioinformatics expert and chair of Vanderbilt’s department of biomedical informatics.

“As such, our work with Vanderbilt will focus on implementation science and understanding human-machine interactions,” Hutman said.

That focus on human-machine interactions is also notable because it helps explain what AI is and is not. AI is not a replacement for human beings, and that remains a major misconception among patients, physicians and other healthcare professionals.

“Although most AI tools for health may achieve tasks now done by people, they are in no way intended to replace human healthcare professionals,” Hutman said. “Rather, AI can complement humans by doing tasks they simply cannot do quickly.”

She said supplementing human expertise with AI will lead to major progress in healthcare.

“By focusing the collective expertise of world-renowned bioinformatics researchers on specific problems that are so foundational to health, yet also ideally suited for AI solutions, we hope to not only change the way people think about AI, but also fundamentally improve health and healthcare,” she said.

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