LIVE FROM HIMSS17: IBM’s Rometty: Cognitive Computing Has Put Us on the Verge of a “Golden Age” in Healthcare | Healthcare Informatics Magazine | Health IT | Information Technology Skip to content Skip to navigation

LIVE FROM HIMSS17: IBM’s Rometty: Cognitive Computing Has Put Us on the Verge of a “Golden Age” in Healthcare

February 20, 2017
by Mark Hagland
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IBM CEO Ginni Rometty shared a cognitive computing-facilitated vision of healthcare’s future at HIMSS17

In the opening keynote address at HIMSS17, IBM global CEO Ginni Rometty told attendees that cognitive computing could lead to a “golden age” in U.S. and global healthcare, if governed and managed wisely. Rometty, who became president, chairman, and CEO of the Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM five years ago, spoke to an overflow audience of more than 7,000 attendees Monday morning at HIMSS17, the annual conference sponsored by the Chicago-based Healthcare Information & Management Systems Society, and being held at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida.

“When I became CEO five years ago, it was at a really great moment, when we got to publicly introduce Watson, on the ‘Jeopardy’ program,” Rometty said. “I said, this would be our next moonshot. I would never be arrogant enough to believe we could change healthcare itself, but we could change some small piece of it.” Then, two years ago, she noted, her IBM colleagues were able to announce the debut of Watson Health, at the HIMSS Conference (she wasn’t able to attend two years ago). That, she said, was a huge moment, not only for the company, but for healthcare as a whole. “Government and regulatory developments, the ACA [Affordable Care Act], acquisitions—those are all very important issues,” Rometty said, acknowledging the currently unsettled nature of the policy and business landscape in U.S. healthcare. “But I also believe this is a profoundly hopeful time for us,” she quickly added. “We’re at a moment where we can change large pieces of healthcare. It is a moment. And I think it’s in our power.”

IBM CEO Ginni Rometty addresses HIMSS17

Speaking of this moment, when cognitive computing is advancing rapidly in healthcare, Rometty said, “I hope to persuade you of three things. First, it is real, it is here, and it is mainstream, and it can change healthcare. I think we’re going to make three key architecture decisions in the next two to three years, that will change the world, and healthcare will change more than any other industry,” she said. “And cognitive computing could usher in a new golden age in healthcare, if it is shaped wisely.”

Expanding on that comment, Rometty told her audience, “First, cognitive healthcare—artificial intelligence—is mainstream, and it is real. There’s a land rush a round artificial intelligence right now. And I don’t mean speech-to-text on the front of a search engine. I mean real application in healthcare, financial services, and retail, and so on. So I thought I’d share five lessons we’ve learned in applying AI [artificial intelligence] to healthcare,” she said. “One, those who are successful with AI end up developing a range of cognitive services. Second, you have to provide transparency. Who trained it? What data was used? You have to have confidence in what you’ve done. Third, it’s got to be domain-specific, meaning that it has to be developed by healthcare people trained in healthcare. Fourth, it has to be hybrid cloud-based, with security. You’ve got to be able to connect people in disparate environments. And finally, fifth, it’s got to be done by an ecosystem of people.”

A very broad range of use cases is already emerging for cognitive computing, Rometty said, noting the breakthrough recently made by researchers at Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix. As a Dec. 14, 2016 report in the Arizona Republic noted, “Researchers at Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix tapped the supercomputing powers of IBM Watson to find new potential genetic links to the deadly muscle-robbing disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Barrow officials said researchers used IBM Watson to identify new genes that previously were not linked to ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.” She also noted that a number of national healthcare systems in a number of countries, including China, India, Thailand, and Finland, are using Watson Health to begin to support both research and diagnosis in patient care now, with the ability to dramatically cut down the time needed for physicians to access insights from clinical decision support tools for diagnostics, including for cancer. In that context, she said she sees a confluence of diagnostics and precision medicine coming on the horizon. She said she also sees a broad confluence between efforts around precision medicine, and healthcare consumer engagement with wearable devices like FitBits.

Rometty quickly referenced a number of announcements being made Monday morning at HIMSS17—the press release for all of those announcements can be read here—including  around the Central New York Care Collaborative, and Atrius Health. In the case of the Central New York Care Collaborative (CNYCC), BM will work with CNYCC to create a population health platform, intended to connect 2,000 care providers across six counties, and with the goal to reduce costs in the Medicaid system by decreasing the amount of avoidable hospital stays by 25 percent over the course of the project, leveraging IBM Watson Care Manager, other Watson Health solutions, and the IBM Cloud. In the case of Atrius Health, the Auburndale, Mass.-based integrated health system has contracted with IBM Watson Health to research the use of a cloud-based service that would provide physicians with a holistic view of the social determinants of patients’ health status, in order to support physician-patient shared decision-making.


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