Big Data

Cognitive Technologies are Critical to Improving Healthcare

Share this post:

In the United States today, three-quarters of the people who suffer from rare diseases are children, according to the NIH. Making matters worse, it’s often difficult to detect and diagnose rare diseases for kids, since youngsters can’t describe symptoms the way adults can.

This is why IBM is
working with Boston Children’s Hospital on a project to use our Watson cognitive technologies to help clinicians efficiently sift through massive volumes of data so they can identify options for the diagnosis and treatment of rare pediatric diseases.

Christopher Walsh, dir.,  Division of Genetics and Genomics, Boston Children’s Hospital.

Christopher Walsh, dir., Division of Genetics and Genomics, Boston Children’s Hospital.

When trying to solve a medical mystery, doctors and patients typically have to engage in a grueling process of elimination based on symptoms, medical literature, and, in some cases, DNA data mining.  The process too often fails to identify an accurate diagnoses or effective treatment. But imagine if doctors had a tool like Watson that had read vast amounts of medical literature about rare and common diseases alike, understanding biomarkers, and with the ability to decipher genome sequencing data. That’s the vision behind our collaboration with Boston Children’s Hospital, and our goal is to help their team of experts ensure they’ve left no stone unturned in the care of children with rare diseases.

Forging Partnerships


Our alliance with Boston Children’s, one of the top pediatric hospitals in the world, gets to the heart of IBM’s strategy for what IBM CEO Ginni Rometty calls our “moonshot”–helping to transform healthcare. And, it’s also a prime example of how alliances are driving our strategy.


We’re focused on collaborating with top organizations and experts in the healthcare system in order to refine Watson’s capabilities and bring together relevant data so doctors are better equipped with the insights they need to provide evidence-based decisions and deliver better care to patients. We know we can’t transform healthcare alone, but with our partners, our ultimate goal is to help clinicians deliver better care.


Accessing Data


Too often, data that’s critical for patients or for making healthcare more efficient is scattered across organizations and computer systems. It also comes in a variety of forms – from text-based medical studies to clinical records and doctors’ notes, to medical images.
That’s why we have created the Watson Health Cloud, an online destination where our clients and partners can access cognitive insights from a wide variety of data types and sources


Focusing on Patients


We believe that it’s critical for technology companies to understand deeply the problems of their end customers. At Boston Children’s, our end customers are the physicians who will use Watson solutions and their patients. So we work closely with clinicians to understand their needs and their ways of working so we can design solutions that can help address them.


In essence, our goal is to help clinicians and patients sift through the sometimes-overwhelming torrent of information and make well-informed decisions. For individuals, it’s about helping them improve their health. For example, my own father takes multiple medications each day. In the future I can envision our healthcare partners using Watson technologies in systems that help my father better manage his medications – in addition to providing data-driven clinical insights to his doctors.


My first taste of healthcare technology came 26 years ago when I was a young product manager at a computer company outside Boston. Working with a major university hospital, we created a computer system that enabled brain surgeons in operating rooms to get on-the-spot advice from neurophysiologists. For the first time in my career, I was part of a team that was able to help doctors save lives.


I was hooked. Since then, I have been on a personal quest to help improve healthcare. My career journey has taken me from the computer industry into a C-suite position at a medical device company, and, now, to cognitive systems and cloud computing.


I was in the audience at a healthcare industry conference on April 13 when IBM announced the launch of Watson Health. The possibilities hit me like a lightning bolt. I wanted to run that business unit. Now I’m doing it. I’ve been here just two months, and I feel like our potential to advance cognitive technologies in healthcare is limitless. This collaboration with Boston Children’s is the next step on our journey to transform healthcare.

More stories

Watson Anywhere: The Future

(Part 3 in a Series) There’s a paradox in the world of AI: While it’s the largest economic opportunity of our lifetime (estimated to contribute $16 trillion to GDP by 2030), enterprise adoption of AI was less than 4% in 2018. A recent Gartner survey said that the 4% in 2018 has now grown to […]

Continue reading

The 3 Beachheads of AI

(Part 2 in a Series) We have been partnering with and assisting clients on their data needs and strategies for years. It’s clear that data and AI are two-sides of the same coin; in fact, this understanding spawned the AI Ladder concept. We’ve developed skills training in the areas of data science and machine learning; […]

Continue reading

Toronto Raptors Use Data-Driven Command Center on Path to NBA Finals

For the first time in their 24 years as an NBA franchise, the Toronto Raptors are in the NBA Finals, squaring off against the Golden State Warriors in the best of seven games series. The Raptors are going up against one of the most talented and accomplished NBA teams. The Warriors are the defending NBA […]

Continue reading