IBM Tackles Health Care

By Scott Ferguson  |  Posted 2010-09-09 Print this article Print


These days, however, IBM researchers spend a good deal of time working on issues related to health care.

With this year's passage of major health reform from the federal government, Chalapathy Neti, associate director and global leader of Healthcare Transformation at IBM Research, has been looking at ways to determine, among other things, how health care organizations can meet new requirements for EMRs (electronic medical records) and rules related to "meaningful use." This is important because, in order for health care providers to tap into federal money, they must demonstrate meaningful use of EMRs under federal guidelines.

"Adopting these electric systems changes your care and especially the clinical outcomes," said Neti. "What analytics tries to do, once an IT system is implemented, is determine how you measure the metrics for -meaningful use.'"

More specifically, Neti and his IBM researchers are working on ways to enable access to data that is stored in different proprietary systems, which has made it impossible for doctors and health care providers to pull together all the information they need to make EMRs work. In February, IBM bought Initiate to bring even more analytics know-how to bear on the EMR problem.

"This allows us to begin aggregating data from multiple systems with different types of proprietary formats and have them all come together into a single data model with a common format, which then lets us to analyze that data," Neti said.  

Eventually, these technologies will turn into a new discipline called "unstructured data analytics," which will allow for the collection of more than just patient records. It will include information from clinical notes and pathology reports to better track diseases and recognize trends.

Health care analytics is also finding a home in the hospitals, themselves. IBM is working with Dr. Carolyn McGregor and the University of Ontario Institute of Technology to develop new hardware and software that will enable the use of real-time data within neonatal care units.

Specifically, McGregor-who has doctorate in computer science and a background in business intelligence and data warehousing-wants to take the large amounts of data that comes in from medical devices throughout the hospital and analyze the information in real-time instead of storing the records in a database and examining it later.

By looking at data in real-time, physicians will be able to better monitor the health of these babies which, quite possibly, could defend against serious, even fatal, infections.

 "In the traditional approach, you extract the data and dump it into a data warehouse every 24 hours and then you run algorithms overnight. . . . By the time you look at it the next day, the baby could already be showing the clinical signs," McGregor old eWEEK in a telephone interview.

Initially, McGregor and some other researchers had built their own system using an event-processing paradigm to analyze data in real-time. That team learned a lot about receiving the data from medical devices, but calculating all that information proved very complex.

 "My next hurdle was to figure out how to build an engine that does this processing, and build one in a way that we could create a number of different analytic-watching mechanisms to keep an eye out for different conditions," McGregor said.

Serendipitously, at a 2007 conference in Toronto, McGregor met IBM researchers who were already working with on a new initiative called InfoStream, which uses IBM's DB2 database software and third-party technology to apply algorithms to data coming in from medical devices.

 "They approached me at the conference and we talked about what my clinical problem was. We talked about how we could take the principals of the functionality that I needed and represent that within the Streams context," said McGregor.

Currently, the research conducted by both McGregor and IBM is being tested in a pilot program at the Hospital for Sick Children, in Toronto. If all goes according to plan, a clinical trial is slated to begin in 2011.


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