Healthcare Analytics, Population Health Management, Healthcare Big Data

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Epic, IBM Watson Embrace FHIR for Healthcare Big Data Analytics

By Jennifer Bresnick

- Hot on the heels of its HIMSS15 debut, the new IBM Watson Health division is helping to shake up the healthcare big data analytics industry by announcing a new collaboration with Epic Systems and the Mayo Clinic that will bring cognitive computing and richer clinical decision support capabilities to the electronic health record. 

IBM Watson and healthcare big data analytics

As Epic and other EHR developers begin to embrace the health data interoperability that will enable a more seamless experience for EHR end users, the new partnership will leverage HL7’s Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) APIs to allow caregivers real-time access to patient data backed by Watson’s deep clinical insights.

“Building on our recent announcement of IBM Watson Health, we are collaborating with Epic and Mayo Clinic in another important validation of the potential of Watson to be used broadly across the healthcare industry,” said Mike Rhodin, senior vice president, IBM Watson. “This is just the first step in our vision to bring more personalized care to individual patients by connecting traditional sources of patient information with the growing pools of dynamic and constantly growing healthcare information.”   

Watson’s lengthening resume as a healthcare powerhouse includes stints training medical students at Cleveland Clinic, providing oncology support at MD Anderson, and filling up clinical trials at Mayo.  The Mayo Clinic’s recent transition to Epic Systems makes it a natural partner for both companies as they deepen their integration and clinical decision support capabilities.  As one of the premier research and treatment facilities in the country, Mayo hopes its cancer care programs will continue to benefit from the use of these highly sophisticated health IT tools.

“Patients need answers, and Watson helps provide them quickly and more thoroughly. We are excited by Watson’s potential to efficiently provide clinical trials information at the point of care,” said Dr. Steven Alberts, an oncologist at the Mayo Clinic.   

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Watson’s strength lies in its ability to digest massive volumes of information ranging from published academic research to patient-generated health data from medical devices and consumer-grade wearables like the Apple Watch.  By analyzing this information in conjunction with the clinical data from a patient’s individual chart, Watson will work to provide Epic users with tailored, insightful clinical decision support available at the bedside.

“Accessing Watson’s virtual brainpower from the Epic platform is energizing from a creative standpoint,” said Carl Dvorak, President of Epic Systems. “We are bringing another level of cognitive computing and augmented intelligence to mainstream healthcare, to improve safety and outcomes for patients globally.”

Despite a lingering reputation for preferring to keep its patient data under its firm control, Epic has been making inroads towards interoperability and embracing the emerging app-based health IT culture with its contributions to Carequality, an interoperability “network of networks,” and the Epic app store that allows easier integration with externally developed capabilities.

The new partnership’s reliance on open architecture and data standards like FHIR are part of a larger effort in the health IT industry to stress interoperability and the use of patient data to generate actionable insights for more comprehensive, more predictive care.  Both Epic and the Mayo Clinic are also founding members of the Argonaut Project, a multi-stakeholder initiative to accelerate the adoption of FHIR and other interoperable data standards that will facilitate the exchange of information across care settings.

This collaborative spirit will help to further IBM’s vision of an interconnected ecosystem of innovation that furthers healthcare big data analytics, improved patient engagement, and better overall outcomes. “The idea is that our partners are going to be building out offerings to various stakeholders to solve very specific problems,” said Steve Gold, CMO of the Watson Group and Vice President of Partner Programs and VC Investments at IBM, in an interview with  “All of that comes together in a way that will afford the market an opportunity to participate.”

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“As an individual, for example, I’m going to be able to take information that’s generated from things like my FitBit or my iWatch and be able to collect that data in my Apple HealthKit,” he added.  IBM Watson Health has already announced agreements with Apple, Medtronic, and Johnson & Johnson to work with IBM on collecting and analyzing patient-generated health data through the new Watson Health Cloud.

“I’ll be able to opt-in with my provider to share what’s in my HealthKit, so they know what’s going on in my life,” Gold said.  “Or perhaps I’ll just contribute it to research so others can benefit from the deidentified information that will become part of the cloud environment. With each of our partners, we see both an opportunity to contribute data and then use data through the insights to get a better understanding of how information is fueling new outcomes.”


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