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.
Big Blue Launches IBM Health Corps
“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 ibmhealthcorps.org.
“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.”