IBM Watson recruits health tech vet to transform personalized healthcare

Dr. Paul Tang, Watson Health chief health transformation officer

IBM ($IBM) launched Watson Health in April last year, leveraging the machine-learning capabilities of its Watson supercomputer to help improve patient outcomes. Now, Dr. Paul Tang is joining as chief health transformation officer, and his goal is to identify ways that Watson can be used to set up a "personalized healthcare" system. He comes to Watson Health from the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, where he served as chief innovation and technology officer.

In an IBM Watson blog post, Tang highlighted the U.S.'s poor performance in health outcomes despite spending more money on healthcare services than its peers. To bring healthcare quality up to par, he called for a "holistic view of what data are relevant to an individual's health," including cost, ease of access to a pharmacy and individual behavior. And a lot of data have to be crunched to assess how nonmedical factors may affect medical outcomes. This is where Watson comes in.

"It's paradoxical: You need to know a whole lot of data about a whole lot of people in order to do what's best for the individual," Tang told Business Insider. His job will be to take the masses of data that Watson processes and transform them into individualized approaches for doctors to use when interacting with patients, Business Insider reported.

Tang's hiring is the latest move in Watson Health's march toward improving value-based healthcare. Since its launch, the unit has entered multiple partnerships with the likes of Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) and Medtronic ($MDT). It is partnering with the American Cancer Society on a virtual cancer health adviser with improved information for cancer patients. It is also working with the New York Genome Center to analyze cancer tumor data, which could ultimately be used to guide treatment strategies.

In February, it acquired Truven Health Analytics for $2.6 billion, planning to integrate Truven's datasets with its own to boost its cloud-based data and analytics capabilities. And in August 2015, it acquired image management player Merge for $1 billion.

Since its launch, Watson Health has dropped $4 billion on acquisitions and grown from having no dedicated staff to more than 6,000. But its gross profits dipped 8% in the first quarter of 2016 compared to the same quarter the previous year.

- here's the Business Insider story
- here's Tang's blog post