Clouded by MD Anderson audit, IBM Watson unveils new partnerships

IBM Watson was set to announce new partnerships and a new platform at a health IT conference Monday, but reports of the company’s vaunted partnership with the MD Anderson Cancer Center being put on hold may have stolen its thunder.

Back in October 2013, MD Anderson signed on IBM Watson and its cognitive computing system to help in its “mission to eradicate cancer.” Dubbed the Expert Oncology Advisor, the product was to integrate the cancer hospital’s “unprecedented breadth and depth” of knowledge to help its clinicians improve care. It also expected to offer the tool to outside researchers to drive drug discovery.

But the project was suspended late last year, Forbes reported Sunday, ahead of a University of Texas System audit, the results of which were posted (PDF) on Jan. 31.

The audit found that, as of Aug. 31 last year, MD Anderson paid out more than $62 million to external firms—namely, IBM and PricewaterhouseCoopers, which made a business plan for the product—but had no product to show for it.

“As of September 2016, the system is not in clinical use and has not been piloted outside of MD Anderson,” the report said. The cancer center said it is seeking bids from potential new partners, Forbes reported.

The report found that the handling of the project did not conform to MD Anderson’s established policies and procedures. For example, it was not approved by the information technology department, six out of seven related service agreements did not undergo a competitive bidding process, and fees were “consistently set just below the amount that would have required Board approval.”

In spite of the problems at MD Anderson, IBM stood by the project: “The OEA R&D project was a success, and likely could have been deployed had MD Anderson chosen to take it forward,” an IBM spokesperson told Forbes.

Meanwhile at the annual meeting of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, IBM debuted its latest Watson platform, for Clinical Imaging Review. While the tool will target several cardiovascular conditions, its initial focus will be aortic stenosis, according to a statement. It will review medical data, including images, to help clinicians identify patients who potentially need cardiovascular care.

The company also expanded its medical imaging collaborative, formed in June 2015, to 24 members and announced partnerships with the Central New York Care Collaborative and Atrius Health.

IBM Watson will develop a cognitive population health platform for CNYCC, with the goal of curbing Medicaid costs and cutting avoidable emergency visits and hospital readmissions. Its agreement with Atrius will focus on creating a cloud-based service to improve shared decision making between physicians and patients.