IBM Think 2019 and the Healthcare Technology Challenge

Dr. Doug Given
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What to think about IBM Think and the emblematic tech giant’s effort to remain relevant in a world changing at lightning speed? The leadership message championed by CEO Ginni Rometty is unmistakable: This elephant can dance with entrepreneurs and hold its own in applied healthcare technology innovation — so long as some things fall into place for IBM.

I was impressed by IBM’s focus on:

• Open source and open governance leveraging the global pool of skilled developers around standards
• Design thinking and discovery mindset, agile methodologies, customer-centric honing for the minimum viable product, human interaction models, and iteration
• Ideation-to-enterprise pathways, in their own words, “concept-to-launch” support that brings customer ideas into production
• The scope and scale of their management and technology toolbox
• Onramps for entrepreneurs, including the IBM Garage and Watson Studio applications delivering pre-built use cases and other initiatives to deploy technologies, enabling rapid response
• Taking the challenge to change seriously by embracing “responsible stewardship” in regard to data governance and integration, trust and transparency, meritocracy and contributor identity, certified sources, examining incentives and removing friction from rapid-cycle change

All this relates to healthcare in scenarios that start with the business problem being solved, e.g., make exchange and transaction more accessible by means of organizing and governing the data. It’s thrilling to envision a future where a healthcare platform for data and technology successfully evolves through a seasoned, interdisciplinary app development team capable of continuous-lifecycle provision — building, testing, editing, integrating with other tools, rapidly iterating. Function would be ensured via inherent monitoring, meeting regulatory constraints and producing a perpetual and searchable record for all manner of problem solving. It’s a future where the availability and affordability of technical skill melts the barriers to implementation. Such platforms would provide an enormous lift for the healthcare customer, “built over time, brick by brick.”

A number of consortia are already at work developing new standards, signing on to existing standards, and pursuing proofs of concept to support such lifecycles in healthcare technology. But — to paraphrase IBM Blockchain booster and COO Roberto Mancone — when it comes time to sell, the market needs structure, legal entities, and built business platforms. Entrepreneurs will make the leap only when they can visualize the outcome and the added benefit becomes self-explanatory.

The hurdles to adoption when anything is new are proof of concept and proof of value, then the market moves from business-case tourism to actual business. Blockchain is undergoing this evolution in healthcare right now — moving from vision, through arguments for counterparty one-stop shops, insurance, logistics, and traffic automation and on to the prospect of seamless connection. The era of transition is everywhere upon us in healthcare, stretching toward acceptance of SaaS and cloud solutions versus clinging to maintenance of legacy platforms — an especially pressing movement for productivity, not to mention security.

A key IBM Think session headed by Lori Steele, Global Managing Director of IBM Healthcare and Life Sciences in New York, touted the status of the Health Utilization Network. This project is aiming to build a single blockchain-based network and stack for multiple solutions that serve the entire healthcare industry. The value of a “platform first” approach is appealing. The initiative is a collaborative bid for an open and inclusive ecosystem on which to build solutions. The nature of the convening and governing entity will likely be more of an adoption challenge than anything technical brought to the table.

Health2047’s focus on data, chronic disease, productivity, and value aligns with the overarching aims of these efforts. At a system level, we need to deliver “simple, seamless, and smart” experiences to enterprises, physicians, and consumers — experiences that address health holistically through an integrated care system. Optum was on the conference podium as an IBM partner and expressed the specifications for one big healthcare challenge, engagement of individuals around wellness and care gaps. They demonstrated an evolving consumer-focused engagement platform for action, that rapidly scales to enterprise level. It requires:

• curated data
• leading analytics
• applied expertise
• an understanding of the health engagement value chain
• predictive models for insight

As a build, another big challenge is a professional engagement platform for physicians and the integrated care teams they lead — one that is data-driven, evidence-based, rooted in health systems science, and advances integrated care for greater value — a platform imputed with understanding the pivotal physician-patient-consumer relationship. And, since we’re starting with a blank slate, let’s have these platforms, derived from independent and simultaneous invention, interoperate.

We all know what’s necessary for a better value future, and we can meet the challenge.

— Doug Given is Board Director at Health2047.

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