IBM Watson Health creates American Cancer Society, global health initiatives

IBM Watson Health's Kendall Square, Cambridge location

IBM will announce a pair of new Watson Health initiatives. One is with the American Cancer Society to apply the power of artificial intelligence to patient-oriented healthcare information, the other is an effort dubbed IBM Health Corps that aims to apply Watson's AI capabilities to better solve global health challenges.

The news comes roughly a year after IBM ($IBM) created Watson Health as a separate unit--that period has been filled with a slew of major partnerships and acquisitions as the company seeks to make the application of AI to healthcare a substantial source of revenues.

The ACS collaboration is intended to create a virtual cancer health adviser for patients that will use the power of Watson's AI to improve the information offered to them. It's slated to launch early next year.

"If you think about the challenges now with patients searching for information, they go to a book store or website to get it in a little bit of a reactive fashion. If it's a recent diagnosis, they want to know what treatment to do," IBM VP and CHO Kyu Rhee told FierceMedicalDevices in an interview.

With Watson, though, the virtual center "will learn to get better. It will be trained by ACS and the people who use it. We will move from a reactive approach to a proactive approach. We'll have the ability to anticipate, to know the needs of those patients before they even occur," he added.

The idea is to start with more than 14,000 pieces of detailed information on more than 17 cancer and wellness topics that are already available via the ACS' It will also incorporate information from the ACS National Cancer Information Center--that is de-identified and aggregated data about self-management, support groups, health activities and cancer education.

Ultimately, the partners expect to integrate the ACS effort with Watson for Oncology, IBM's existing clinical support tool for doctors. This would enable a physician to better direct patients to resources.

IBM already has a series of cancer-related partnerships including ones with Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, MD Anderson Cancer Center and the Mayo Clinic.

On the global health front, IBM chairman, President and CEO Ginni Rometty is slated to detail IBM Health Corps at the World Health Care Congress in Washington, DC, on April 12.

IBM Health Corps is loftily modeled on the Peace Corps--it's intended to apply Watson's artificial intelligence to better address local health challenges such as primary care deficiencies, health worker shortages as well as access to nutritious food and safe water.

The project has already had two pilot efforts and will start a third. It's also opening up a competition for an additional 5 communities; each one represents an investment of roughly $500,000 commitment from IBM. The competition closes on April 20.

Of the first two pilots, one was in Calderdale, U.K. to analyze unstructured data such as social workers' case notes to identify population health needs. More than 65% of the population there is overweight or obese, and the pilot worked to implement programs to increase physical activity among particularly vulnerable populations, such as foster youth and elderly residents.

The other was in Johannesburg, South Africa, where IBM built a mobile app to enable hospitals to better manage staffing--thereby helping to alleviate acute staffing shortages.

The third is planned for community health center Unity Health Care in Washington, DC. It's slated to better unite primary care and mental health care in order to provide better chronic disease management.

With governments and nongovernmental organizations, Rhee noted that there's "extraordinary data, but not the ability to use it. We can go to an NGO to help them leverage the data to gain insights on health challenges."

- here is the ACS release
- and here is the IBM Health Corps release