Earlier this week at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) conference in Chicago, the Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM abruptly announced that it was acquiring both the Dallas-based Phytel and the Cleveland-based Explorys, in a combination that senior IBM executives said held great potential for the leveraging of data capabilities to transform healthcare.
Regarding the Explorys acquisition specifically, IBM noted that, “Since its spin-off from the Cleveland Clinic in 2009, Explorys has secured a robust healthcare database derived from numerous and diverse financial, operational and medical record systems comprising 315 billion longitudinal data points across the continuum of care. This powerful body of insight will help fuel IBM Watson Health Cloud, a new open platform that allows information to be securely de-identified, shared and combined with a dynamic and constantly growing aggregated view of clinical, health and social research data.”
Both Phytel and Explorys will become part of the newly launched IBM Watson Health unit, which officials say will create a more complete and personalized picture of health, powered by cognitive computing. To this end, according to Anil Jain, M.D., chief medical officer (CMO) for Explorys, and practicing physician at the Cleveland Clinic (Explorys is an innovation spinoff from the Clinic), there is "clear synergy" among the two companies, IBM and Explorys. "Over the years we [Explorys] have become leaders when it comes to aggregating data from all the different disparate data sources that exist in a health system, and bringing it together to solve real-world problems in a very rapid manner using population health as a use case that is near and dear to most clinical systems right now," Dr. Jain says. "In many ways it's very much a competitive advantage to get a handle on all that data and do actionable things."
Jain says that what attracted IBM was Explorys' ability to help them accelerate, not only from a data point of view—with its 50 million lives and 360 hospitals—but also from an analytics perspective. "They are complimenting much of what we do around traditional analytics using machine learning algorithms with some of the cognitive computing and the Watson analytics that Watson Health group will be leveraging," Jain says. "There was a clear synergy where we became the content that will fuel some of the next generation analytics that Watson has become famous for."
To date, much of what Explorys does around analytics entails predicting clinical events—especially events that shouldn't happen such as readmissions—or predicting the amount of utilization that a patient may have over a given year, notes Jain. "The analytics are based on things that are readily available in the electronic medical record (EMR) or in claims data—things like diagnoses, procedures, or demographics, and that give us a good predictive power," Jain says. Going forward, he adds, Watson will allow clinical leaders to take a look at unstructured information buried in progress notes and discharge summaries, and take additional information out of them. That ability, Jain says, "will result in a predictive power of different tools to put in front of front of clinicians so that they have greater horsepower, and in a sense, a greater advantage for health systems that are taking on risk to avoid those kinds of events."
Jain warns that it will be a process, and that it will take time to understand all the different ways to get everything synergized within the IBM Watson Health group. "We are still going through that process, the deal was announced two days ago. Now the real work begins to integrate our companies," Jain says. "At the Cleveland Clinic, when they were doing work with Watson, I was thrilled with what it brought to the table, in addition to playing Jeopardy. The ability to read through articles, textbooks, and be an assistant for clinicians, who are typically juggling hundreds of thousands of information to decide what's best for patients, is amazing. "I am thrilled to be a part of this," Jain says.