IBM Watson accelerates democratization of healthcare powered by AI: Sandeep Makhijani Credit: IBMSupplied Art
Business Management

IBM Watson accelerates democratization of healthcare powered by AI: Sandeep Makhijani

IBM Watson Health, incepted in 2015, has been right at the forefront to bring unmatched talent and expertise to the healthcare industry. The tech giant has brought solutions to market that help hospitals and health organizations across the globe address some of their biggest challenges.

CIO India spoke to Sandeep Makhijani, Watson Health Leader, Asia Pacific, IBM Watson Health on the company’s roadmap, tech trends like AI, cloud and what’s adding momentum to IBM Watson Health. 

Edited Excerpts

IBM launched Watson Health around three years back. What’s been the report card across Asia Pacific in terms of number and types of clients, countries of operations, team strength, business growth and/or any other data points?

In our ongoing journey, IBM Watson Health business continues to add new clients and is growing across the Asia Pacific region. Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, India, Singapore, Vietnam and Thailand have been the leading adopters of Watson Health solutions in the region.

Top hospitals in the region such as Gil Medical Center of Gachon University in South Korea, Apollo Hospitals in India, K Hospitals and Ho Chi Minh Hospital of Oncology in Vietnam and several other public and private sector healthcare providers in the other countries have either adopted or piloted offerings from Watson Health.

In the Asia Pacific region, we have introduced Watson for Oncology and Watson for Genomics. Watson for Oncology is a cognitive computing system that uses natural language processing to ingest patient data in structured and unstructured formats. The system provides physicians with treatment options that are derived from established guidelines, the medical literature, and training from patient cases.

Watson for Oncology is continuously learning over time, and doctors have access to peer-reviewed studies, clinical guidelines, and expert perspectives. Similarly, Watson for Genomics analyses massive bodies of genomic, clinical and pharmacological knowledge to help uncover potential therapeutic options to target genetic alterations in a patient’s tumor. 

Apollo Hospitals in India have implemented Watson for Oncology and Watson for Genomics to help physicians provide patients with personalized, evidence-based cancer care. The solutions help oncologists at Apollo surface relevant data to bridge disparate sources of information and identify treatments that are personalized to each unique patient. This agreement was the first-of-its kind Watson for Oncology & Watson for Genomics deployment in India.

AI, data and analytics are new tools that add immense support to the medical and healthcare sector. How is IBM Watson’s technology platform solving challenges of this sector?  

That’s correct as IBM Watson Health was created to help solve some of the world’s most pressing health challenges through data, analytics, AI and hybrid cloud. These new-age technologies are core to IBM Watson Health as it helps health professionals and researchers around the world translate data and knowledge into insights to help them make more-informed decisions about patient care. 

We bring analytical power to our clients to help them create rich population health and value-based care programs. With proprietary models to approach challenges like cost of care and disease staging, we can find answers to complex questions like drivers of risk, predictors of healthcare expenditures, and risk-adjusted mortality. 

Watson Health’s natural language processing reads clinical text from any source to identify, categorize, and code medical and social concepts. The AI capabilities also enable clients to find information in unstructured medical literature to support hypotheses and to help in the discovery of new insights. We can create the ultimate platform - Hybrid Cloud - for interoperability and insights, anytime, from any data.

You often speak on building trust and also ensuring that your company’s technology is delivering clinical value and making healthcare available and accessible globally. Elaborate. 

Since its launch in 2015, IBM Watson Health has delivered unprecedented insights – trusted, secure and actionable information we could also use to train Watson in value-based payment models, radiology, oncology and clinical trials.

 Today, our solutions are being used by thousands of clients around the world to ensure safety, improve effectiveness, increase efficiency, drive health equity, reduce waste and improve access to care. One of our patient safety solutions delivers evidence-based clinical decision support to healthcare providers in over 4,500 hospitals in more than 80 countries.

In the past year, one of our evidence-based clinical decision support tools closed gaps in care for nearly 2.5 million patients. Our fraud, waste and abuse algorithms are at work daily spotting anomalies in health claims and helping government health and human services agencies recover hundreds of millions of dollars in over-payments.

We take this critical role in improving population health and helping healthcare providers deal with the challenges they face, very seriously. To build trust with the key users of our solutions within the healthcare community, it is important for us to support what we do with clinical evidence. We have more than 70 peer-reviewed studies, posters and abstracts that cover our Watson Health AI offerings alone. Since 2017, more than 900 pieces of scientific evidence have demonstrated the science of Watson Health in research, real world evidence and AI.

How diverse or similar are the healthcare markets for IBM Watson Health across countries in APAC region? Highlight few data points for reference.

Emerging markets like India, Indonesia, Vietnam and others have similar underlying gaps in supply and demand of healthcare services. While there are public sector healthcare facilities available, limited coverage and quality has led to gaps, which is being bridged by private healthcare service providers. There are similarities between India and other APAC countries for example from chronic disease stand-point. High prevalence of cancer stands out. Every year, around 1.2 mn cancer cases are reported in India and approx. 0.2 mn cancer cases in Korea. 

A key similarity between APAC countries and countries like India includes explosion of data which is providing new opportunities for better care, lower costs, and optimized patient prioritization, intervention, and pricing. Market and competitive influences are driving the necessity for better digital engagement with patients and the broader healthcare ecosystem.

Changing business models, from healthcare delivery to reimbursement, are similar across AP region that are driving the need for IT investment across the care continuum. Governments, policy makers and politicians are realizing that healthcare and public health will require a clear strategy and budgets to support their vision of universal coverage. 

However, the big difference is India’s large population which impacts the resources needed to make healthcare available, accessible and at a scale across its large geographic area. Studies have found that India has just 0.62 doctors per 1000 people (WHO prescribes a doctor population ratio of 1:1000) and currently needs 750,000 more doctors. 

What are your prime priorities as AP leader of IBM Watson Health for 2019 and 2020? Why? 

Making consistent quality healthcare available and accessible in every corner of Asia Pacific region is a big priority. The greatest problem faced today is access to care and the quality of care, given the alarming gap in the doctor-to-patient ratio. With AI enabled clinical decision support offerings, my objective is to enable healthcare providers in different regions to provide consistent quality of care to the patient.

We would continue working closely with public and private sector healthcare providers across the APAC region to transform cancer care. We are delivering on that promise by addressing unexpected variability of care and the high costs associated with that variation and delivering clinical-decision support with global application that is informed by specialists at top tier institutions. And of course extract meaningful, actionable insights from the explosion of clinical, administrative and scientific data that is entering the healthcare system each day, and making it actionable across the full spectrum of oncology care.

Democratization of healthcare in APAC region is a big focus by augmenting clinical expertise, making healthcare accessible/available to the common man, with consistency and ensuring scalability across virtually all areas of healthcare, including prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. AI can help us provide the level of healthcare service that patients are demanding today and will continue demanding in the future.

What are the new technologies or business imperatives in healthcare industry you foresee that will accentuate your company’s business? 

Watson Health is helping to lead the transformation of health around the world – we were first to market, and we are committed to addressing the most pressing healthcare challenges through data, analytics, AI and hybrid cloud. 

We will soon see AI gaining momentum in the healthcare sector. For healthcare organizations interested in exploring cognitive capabilities, it’s important to first develop an AI strategy. Specific goals must be established and critical data sources must be identified, along with services and processes that can fully benefit from AI.

The underlining driver for cognitive technologies is data. Medical data is expected to double every 73 days by 2020. And, each person will generate enough health data in their lifetime to fill 300 million books. Physicians simply cannot keep up with the growing amount of information available to them. Today, primary care physicians’ work on average 11.2 hours each day. Artificial intelligence can make sense of the overwhelming amount of clinical data, genomic data, and social determinants of health data to find the best path for each patient.

Your top-of-the-line leadership and management mantras that’s worked well for you in healthcare industry.

I have spent a decade in the healthcare sector in the APAC region. Through professional as well as personal experiences, I have realized that no matter who one is and where one is, we will all be patients or care givers at some point in our lives.
 
Healthcare industry and its folks should keep few guiding principles in mind. First, always have the patient at the center of everything we do. Be humble about what we do is a must too. Always work towards maintaining trust because especially this industry works on trust. Lastly, have the courage and the conviction always to transform this sector. It will be tough, but it’s not impossible with technology as a catalyst to change. 

Sandeep’s leadership mantras in healthcare industry

- Always have the patient at center of everything we do

- Stay humble about whatever we do

- Always work to maintain trust in the industry

- Have courage and conviction to transform the sector

IBM Watson Health Priorities in 2019 & 2020: Sandeep Makhijani

  1. Make consistent quality healthcare available and accessible in every corner of APAC region
  2. Work with public and private sector healthcare providers across the APAC region to transform cancer care
  3. Democratize healthcare by augmenting clinical expertise and making healthcare accessible to the common man.

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