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Medtronic Announces Major Partnership with IBM and the Watson Supercomputer

Updated: 8/14/21 7:00 amPublished: 4/22/15
By Adam Brown

Twitter Summary: @MDT_diabetes + @IBM announce partnership to improve #diabetes care through use of @IBMWatson supercomputer

On April 13, Medtronic Diabetes announced a partnership with IBM and the Watson supercomputer (the one that famously beat two Jeopardy champions in 2011). The details of the IBM partnership are still being worked out, but it will aim to leverage Medtronic’s expertise in diabetes (and large data sets) and IBM Watson’s analytical and computational skills. This partnership will focus on three main areas:

  • Integrated care and identifying at-risk patient populations – for instance, predicting if someone is likely to end up in the emergency room based on a variety of data sources;

  • Developing more advanced artificial pancreas algorithms; and

  • Making dynamic, personalized care plans for type 1 and type 2 diabetes – we’re not sure what these entail, but the idea of personalization is certainly encouraging.

The Watston computer has a few notable features that make it exciting from a patient perspective:

  • The computer can understand the English language (Natural Language Processing) and analyze “unstructured” data (e.g., free-form notes in an electronic medical record vs. coded Yes/No data);

  • Watson can learn over time (e.g., incorporating the latest symptoms and test results on individual patients, the latest medical research, and the newest clinical trial outcomes); and

  • Watson is housed in the cloud on IBM’s servers, meaning numerous devices can access it (e.g., no need for a massive on-site server).

This partnership is not IBM’s first venture into healthcare. They have also done some cancer-focused work, where the Watson computer is being used to help identify the best treatment options for a given patient (in tandem with a healthcare provider). More information on IBM’s work in cancer can be found here.

Though it’s hard to know what products or services will come out of this announcement – and when we will see them – the news brings potential to address some of the most critical needs in diabetes: the challenges of personalizing therapy; an overwhelming amount of data that is hard to combine and interpret; time-pressed providers; and rising costs. This announcement follows a string of progressive updates from Medtronic, including its acquisition of the innovative type 1 diabetes clinic, Diabeter; the licensing of the DreaMed Diabetes artificial pancreas software; and an investment in Glooko. Indeed, Medtronic is hoping to expand beyond pumps and sensors in the coming years as it seeks to serve 20 million patients globally by 2020. Some of these moves into algorithms and care delivery are steps in that direction, and ultimately, we hope patients will benefit. –AB/AJW

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About the authors

Adam Brown joined diaTribe in 2010 as a Summer Associate, became Managing Editor in 2011, and served as Senior Editor through 2019. Adam brings almost two decades of personal experience... Read the full bio »