Can the cloud save a life?

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I was recently asked to share my vision for the future of the cloud.  As I considered this question, it dawned upon me that the innovations and advances I most wanted cloud to be associated with, that I was most likely to exult and cheer for, would be the ones where cloud computing was directly influential in profoundly changing the human condition.

Cloud technology is now hewing closely with accelerated innovation, analytics and collaboration through its inherent scalability and rapidity of deployment.  The cloud is also fulfilling its potential in expediting and enabling medical professionals to leapfrog technology and infrastructure limitations and bring about a sea change in medical innovation.

Many technology visionaries have already started this journey and I’d like to share two cloud-enabled efforts in the medical field that are addressing the burning question at hand: Can the cloud save a life?

IBM Watson in healthcare

It’s estimated that around 20 percent of all the information doctors use for diagnoses is evidence-based. Each year, one in five diagnoses are incorrect or incomplete, and nearly 1.5 million medication errors are made just in the United States alone.

IBM Watson in healthcare seeks to change this state of affairs. It is empowering medical practitioners by:

  • Supporting doctors with faster and more accurate diagnostics
  • Enabling better defined patient treatment plans
  • Aiding medical researchers to quickly wade through a growing mountain of data

In my view, Watson has unparalleled impact on the future of health care.  It has the potential to drive correlation and analytics of disparate and difficult situations to consolidate medical information, clinical trial data and diagnostic approaches to empower the global medical community and allow them to take a quantum leap in combating and eradicating illnesses such as cancer and AIDS.

In a recent blog post highlighting the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center’s pilot of Watson, Dr. Courtney DiNardo described how access to timely diagnostic knowledge was not prevalent in most community hospitals today.

She reinforced how critical Watson’s cognitive computing abilities were in assisting medical practitioners to glean valuable insight from vast amounts of information to provide the best outcome for their patients. She highlighted a particular case where Watson provided her with an early diagnosis of a patient suffering from complications arising from chemotherapy. She asserted that Watson’s early and quick diagnosis in this case potentially saved her patient’s life! 


UNICEF estimated that globally, nearly seven million children under the age of five died in 2011 from preventable diseases.
• Another 19,000 children under the age of five are dying every day.
• Currently, most developing countries average under 10 physicians for every 10,000 people, whereas most developed nations can boast having nearly three to six times as many.

These sobering facts have compelled many in the medical field to actively engage and look for solutions to tackle this challenge head-on.

OPENPediatrics is a beta program that provides a cloud-based platform to deliver education and information across a global community of medical practitioners who treat critically ill children. It is sponsored by Boston Children’s Hospital in collaboration with the World Federation of Pediatric Intensive and Critical Care Societies and IBM Interactive.

As I delved more deeply into the literature and eye-opening, informative YouTube videos on the site, I began to realize the innovative approach embraced by OPENPediatrics will go a long way towards mitigating the global medical knowledge gap.


Some of the key features that made this solution highly interactive and effective in disseminating information were:

• A social network to connect pediatricians worldwide to exchange ideas and diagnoses
• An on-demand curriculum and medical literature on pediatric specialty care
Training videos of advanced and complex procedures
Simulations that give practitioners a means to test comprehensive treatments in virtual settings

“All around the world there are children who are critically ill, and unless you provide the right care at the right time in the right way, these children will die.” says OPENPediatrics’ Associate Program Director, Traci Wolbrink, MD, MPH.

Dr. Wolbrink’s profound words stunned me to my core. OPENPediatrics is trying to directly meet this essential need and stood out as an example of the cloud fulfilling its potential to be something beyond technology, by allowing us to fulfill one of humanity’s basic responsibilities—to protect our next generation and potentially save lives.

I know we have a long road to travel before we finally overcome disease and the ongoing needless loss of life due to lack of timely medical advice and access. But these cloud-enabled efforts are accelerating us towards that goal by harnessing the breadth of knowledge and fueling innovations in medical practice. And they are already saving lives today.

So, the next time someone disagrees with you when you declare that the cloud can save a life, be sure to share this blog post and answer them with an unequivocal “Yes!”

IBM Cloud, Middleware Labs

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