Big Blue Launches IBM Health Corps

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2016-04-12 Print this article Print
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"We’ve been fascinated during this project to see how Watson can be applied,” said Merran McRae, Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council Chief Executive, in a statement. “We don’t tend to think of free-form text as a source of data for analysis, and our work with IBM has really broadened our minds as to what is data, what is information and how can we turn that into a usable insight to help guide our interventions.”

In its final pilot project, which will be deployed in early May in Washington, DC, IBM will be working with a community health center, Unity Health Care, which operates school-based clinics, homeless shelters and community health clinics. As one of the nation’s largest community health centers, Unity Health Care provides primary care to more than 100,000 underserved residents through its 26 local clinics, Litow said. The IBM pilot will study the link between mental health and chronic disease, and will help Unity integrate behavioral health caregivers and data into its practices.

"We are partnering with IBM Health Corps to help us address our patients’ behavioral health needs,” said Seiji Hayashi, MD and executive vice president for Transformation and Innovation at Unity Health Care, in a statement. “With their expertise in data analytics and population health capabilities, IBM’s support will catalyze our work and help us improve the quality of life for thousands of people in the D.C. community."

Later this year following a competitive proposal process, IBM will select five communities where the IBM Health Corps will use the company's expertise in cognitive, cloud, mobile and social computing to address local health challenges. The commercial value of each engagement is estimated at $500,000, Litow said. Applications may be submitted to IBM through April 20 by visiting

“We’re opening this up to challenges around the world – like the Corporate Service Corps, like the Smarter Cities Challenge,” Litow said. “People will be able to respond to an RFP [Request for Proposals] that was sent out. And then we will consider deploying about five different projects over the next year and then perhaps open up the opportunity to do other projects using IBM’s best technical expertise and problem solving talent to make a real impact in the area of health.”

Litow added that there has been a lot of push in terms of citizenship activities by the large companies around the world to focus less on checkbook philanthropy and more on problem solving. “That’s an area where we really think we have a lead,” he noted.

Although IBM is selecting only five top projects from the responses it gets, “If you look at the model of Corporate Service Corps, over nine years we’ve done 1,000 and in the Smarter Cities Challenge over the last five years we’ve done 130 cities,” Litow said. “So I don’t think anybody expects that we’re going to set up an infrastructure and stop with five projects. But we’re looking at the most challenging, most difficult kinds of projects that we could solve.”

The IBM Health Corps will work much like its preceding programs, where IBM looks at the particular challenge on a project and puts together a team of six individuals. Most projects typically have someone from IBM Research, as well as someone with broad consulting experience. The rest of the team is filled by people with finance, legal, communications or marketing expertise, Litow said.

“Usually you design a team that combines the best that the company has to offer,” he stated. “You give them a month to two months of pre-work where they analyze the problem and figure out a potential solution. Then they move into the city and hit the ground running with a team of talent with a particular roadmap to solve the problem. Then often when they leave, they present a set of final implementation strategies for the project.”



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