Big Blue Launches IBM Health Corps

IBM announced the launch of IBM Health Corps, a new corporate program to help communities around the world address public health challenges.

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IBM has launched a new health initiative, the IBM Health Corps, patterned after the company’s Corporate Service Corps, which is often called the private sector version of the Peace Corps.

IBM Chairman, President and CEO Ginny Rometty announced the new program today at the 13th Annual World Health Care Congress, along with a new IBM collaboration with the American Cancer Society to bring the power of IBM’s Watson cognitive computing system to cancer patients, survivors and caregivers.

Like the IBM Corporate Service Corps, the new IBM Health Corps will tap IBM’s top talent and cognitive technologies to support its mission. But unlike the Corporate Service Corps, which focuses on a variety of different target areas, the IBM Health Corps will focus solely on helping communities around the world address public health challenges. With its new health initiative, IBM will help communities address social and environmental factors of health, including safe drinking water and sanitation, stable housing, physical fitness, behavioral health and nutrition, said Stan Litow, vice president of IBM Corporate Citizenship and president of the IBM International Foundation, in an interview.

“The genesis of the Health Corps is really around IBM Corporate Service Corps, which we launched about nine years ago and have sent more than 3,000 of our top talent on 1,000 projects in 37 countries around the world,” he said. “These engagements have been valued at more than $75 million. We’ve done an amazing set of projects, largely in the growth markets – a lot in Africa, a lot in Southeast Asia, a lot in Latin America. We’ve worked on many healthcare issues, but that was never the focus of the Corporate Service Corps, it was really about generating the equivalent of a citizen diplomacy initiative.”

Then five years ago IBM started something called the Smarter Cities Challenge, which helps cities around the world to address key challenges of becoming “smarter” through big data, analytics and more. IBM just completed an activity in Memphis, Tenn., where the company analyzed the city’s 911 and emergency management response systems and helped them come up with ways to achieve significant savings, Litow said. With the Smarter Cities Challenge, IBM has sent teams to 130 cities worldwide, with approximately 800 IBMers delivering pro bono services valued at more than $66 million. The Smarter Cities Challenge also has included health-related projects.

Meanwhile, IBM has two Health Corps projects in a pilot phase, Litow noted. One is in Johannesburg, South Africa, where IBM looked at the deployment of expert medical staff around the country and used a number of data analytics and Watson tools to be able to help deploy effective medical staff around South Africa. And the other is where IBM worked in Calderdale in the U.K. to look at ways to combine a set of content and material to improve preventative healthcare. Both of these projects were launched in late 2015.

In Johannesburg, IBM Health Corps collaborated with Africa Health Placements to address acute physician shortages. Big Blue built a mobile-enabled application to enable clinic and hospital administrators to directly report staffing needs to the government in real time, Litow said. That mobile application is based on the IBM MobileFirst for iOS apps, he said. Through IBM’s efforts, hospital administrators have been able to make better short- and long-term staffing decisions.

"Our work with IBM Health Corps shows the potential of mobile technologies at the frontend in primary care facilities and high impact visual modeling at the policymaker level to provide important insights and link key players in the health care management chain,” said Saul Kornik, CEO of Africa Health Placements, in a statement. “Real-time insights will improve decision making and planning that will have real impact on healthcare access and patient's lives."

In Calderdale in the U.K., where more than 65 percent of adults are overweight or obese, IBM Health Corps partnered with the Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council to create specialized fitness programs based on insight gleaned from analyzing structured and unstructured data.