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The future of health is digitally empowered - and the possibilities are endless

Published 15 December 2016

Andreas Haimboeck-Tichy, director, Healthcare and Life Sciences, IBM UK & Ireland, discusses the growing applications of cognitive technology for the healthcare industry


The healthcare industry is experiencing unprecedented disruption. From changing industry regulations to rising costs, healthcare providers are being bombarded by challenges and distractions. They must manage rapid digitisation, increased pressure on services and rising patient expectations, while facing a shortage of resources.

To thrive amid this change, healthcare providers need to be smart in how they approach and unlock the value of the mass of data that is now available to them as a result of increased digitisation. This data is brimming with insights, but only if it’s analysed in the right way. Advances in the pioneering area of ‘cognitive technology’ can help bridge this gap between data quantity and data insight. With the ability to process and understand natural language, cognitive-based systems can quickly find the proverbial needle in a haystack, identifying new patterns and insights – something particularly relevant in healthcare.

Our research indicates healthcare leaders are now poised to embrace this ground-breaking technology, with 95% of healthcare executives who are familiar with cognitive technologies intending to invest in its capabilities. Some healthcare organisations are already much further along the cognitive journey than others and already, there are some trailblazers that truly understand how cognitive capabilities can help push the current boundaries of innovation and growth in the healthcare sector. Some examples at the forefront of cognitive health in the UK include London Borough of Harrow and Alder Hey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust ; both organisations are using cognitive solutions to improve their services in a health and social care context.

Personalising care with Watson Care Manager

Managing social care needs is becoming a major priority for the UK healthcare industry. Social Care accounts for some 35% of council spending and the cost of an ageing population could soon exceed all other council spending. Beyond making sure care is delivered promptly, healthcare providers must ensure that the level of care ensures individual needs are being met. A great example of this is Harrow Council using cognitive technologies to provide personalised social care services.

Using Harrow Council’s expertise and innovations in adult social care, IBM will enhance Watson Care Manager to enable individuals and caregivers to quickly and easily select the most appropriate provider that can deliver the services they need, using their allocated personal budget.

The platform maximises the workflow for care management activities such as scheduling, developing individualised care plans, managing budgets, selecting providers and enabling care. IBM Watson Care Manager not only provides personal insights for more impactful care plans, it provides insights for more effective use and careful management of care management resources.  The streamlined system will not only save money for the council, but also give people more control and flexibility over what care and health services they and their loved ones receive.

Building the UK’s first cognitive hospital

Another healthcare organisation unlocking the value of cognitive computing is Alder Hey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust, which has set out to create the UK’s first ‘cognitive’ hospital by harnessing big data and the power of IBM’s Watson technology platform.

Using Watson to analyse feedback that is voluntarily and securely provided by patients, with appropriate consent as needed, it is anticipated that Alder Hey will be able to greatly enhance patient experience. The technology will identify any patient anxieties and provide information and reassurance on-demand, remind young patients and their parents about appointments and about aftercare, and provide insightful feedback to clinicians based on the tone and sentiment of these interactions.

With this valuable insight, clinicians at Alder Hey will be able to make a hospital stay for a child less daunting, by providing a more personalised service while also being able to identify clinical trends more quickly, which could help the hospital to better manage patient flow and effectively make significant cost savings.

In the future, there are many potential applications of the platform. It could be used to monitor admission patterns to help with bed planning or help management of chronic illnesses through educational applications that alert patients when they should seek medical help. It could also help drive vital research projects by proactively matching suitable patients to clinical studies.

The applications of cognitive technologies for the healthcare industry are endless, enabling enhanced patient care, advanced discoveries and better decisions for healthcare providers around the world. The data-driven insights delivered by cognitive technologies have the potential to truly transform the healthcare industry, delivering real benefits to patients and healthcare professionals alike.

Andreas Haimboeck-Tichy is director, Healthcare and Life Sciences for IBM UK & Ireland

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