Big data offers new opportunities for healthcare providers, clinical laboratories, and pathology groups, and this new alliance hopes to accelerate big data capabilities

Big data has the potential to deliver unprecedented insight into optimizing the patient care experience and managing outcomes for healthcare providers. That is particularly true for clinical laboratories, and pathology groups. Yet, with the sheer amount of data generated by today’s ever-expanding menus of diagnostic procedures, communicating this data between systems and analyzing data at high-levels still presents challenges.

To help healthcare organizations jumpstart their Big Data programs, key stakeholders are joining forces. One such alliance involves Siemens Healthineers and IBM Watson Health. In an October 2016 press release, the two organizations announced a five-year global strategic alliance aimed at helping healthcare professionals optimize value-based care that leverages increasingly complex data collected for use in precision medicine.

What should intrigue pathologists and medical laboratory managers about this new alliance is the fact that Siemens Healthineers owns two of the world’s largest businesses in radiology/imaging and in vitro (IVD). Thus, it can be expected that the alliance will be looking to identify ways to combine radiology data with clinical laboratory data that produce knowledge that can be applied to clinical care.

The Changing Face of Healthcare Big Data

In 2011, Dark Daily reported on the efforts of Aetna, Humana, Kaiser, and UnitedHealth to pool their claims data. The initial database, conceived to help provide a research base for uncovering information regarding utilization of healthcare services, included more than $1 trillion in spending. (See Dark Daily, “Aetna, Humana, Kaiser, UnitedHealth Put Five Billion Medical Claims into Database for Healthcare Cost, Utilization Research,” October 28, 2011.)

In 2014, Dark Daily also reported on a similar database created for consumers from Aetna, Humana, and UnitedHealth. (See Dark Daily, “Aetna, Humana, and UnitedHealth Agree to Share Data with HCCI to Give Consumers a Free, Comprehensive Source for Comparing Healthcare Prices and Quality,” July 9, 2014.)

However, in recent years, trends have shifted toward comprehensive analysis and integration of data into service platforms—both within health systems and clinical laboratories—to help make sense of the growing stockpiles of information.

As we reported earlier this year, clinical pathology laboratory test data typically comprises more than 70% of a patient’s permanent medical record. As automation continues, diagnostic menus expand, and precision medicine continues to mature, these numbers will not only continue to increase—they will drive the innovations, processes, and decisions of stakeholders involved in development. (See Dark Daily, “Era of Healthcare Big Data Analytics Poised for Rapid Growth; Clinical Pathology Laboratory Test Data Will Have Important Role,” January 6, 2016.)

How Technological Ability Is Converging with Access to Data

By combining the cognitive computing power of IBM Watson Health with the market share of Siemens’ radiology, medical imaging, and in vitro diagnostics divisions, this alliance proposes to develop a streamlined solution to help manage large data sets generated by providers, including medical laboratories, while helping physicians make diagnoses faster and with greater accuracy.

These capabilities are further backed by several recent acquisitions by IBM Watson Health. As outlined in Hospitals & Health Systems in April, 2016, IBM’s investments since launching their predictive analytics platform all offer extensive benefits to applications such as this alliance with Siemens. For example:

Acquisition of Explorys added more than 315 billion clinical, operational, and financial data elements to their big data sets;

Acquisition of Phytel provided data on health management software and interoperability with electronic health record (EHR) solutions;

Acquisition of Merge Healthcare further boosted the data to include Merge’s existing data set of medical images;

Acquisition of Truven Health Analytics brought additional data on claims, quality, outcomes, and costs.

IBM’s focus with this alliance—population health management (PHM) services—combines aspects of each of these acquisitions to provide a big picture of trends.

In an interview with Healthcare Informatics following the announcement that IBM’s Watson would be working with Explorys, Anil Jain, MD, Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer of IBM Explorys, said, “I was thrilled with what [Watson] brought to the table, in addition to playing Jeopardy. The ability to read through articles, textbooks, and be an assistant for clinicians, who are typically juggling hundreds of thousands of information to decide what's best for patients, is amazing. I am thrilled to be a part of this." (Photo copyright: HIMSS Media.)

In an interview with Healthcare Informatics following the announcement that IBM’s Watson would be working with Explorys, Anil Jain, MD, Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer of IBM Explorys, said, “I was thrilled with what [Watson] brought to the table, in addition to playing Jeopardy. The ability to read through articles, textbooks, and be an assistant for clinicians, who are typically juggling hundreds of thousands of information to decide what’s best for patients, is amazing. I am thrilled to be a part of this.” (Photo copyright: HIMSS Media.)

Speaking with Healthcare Informatics, Anil Jain, MD, Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer of IBM Explorys said, “One [challenge that health systems] see is a lot of disparate information systems within their community and hospital systems, different vendors, and different types of data coming from different places.”

Greater Access, Better Analysis and Communications

This is a familiar issue to medical laboratories. Often left to develop their own systems for handling the big data produced by genomic testing and assays performed on load-and-walk-away systems, laboratories—and the markets serving them—are now finding value in tools designed to help communicate this data both within departments and between laboratories and healthcare providers.

Systems and services from alliances, such as the one between IBM Watson Health and Siemens Healthineers, could offer greater access to increasingly complex data sets and allow for better analysis and communication. This brings opportunities for pathology groups and clinical laboratories to further recognize trends in the health of local populations, trim waste, improve output, and control costs as the shift to value-based care continues.

“When we work with Siemens,” Jain said, “They bring together a deep expertise on how workflows operate within the health systems and hospitals, especially around imaging and diagnostic lab.”

As systems evolve, laboratories must keep pace. Already, the shift toward bundled payments and value-based care has laboratories searching for ways to optimize operations and maintain a competitive edge. As data generation and data management capabilities increase, both within laboratories and health systems, competition will increase as well.

—Jon Stone

Related Information:

IBM Watson Health, Siemens Healthineers Partner on Population Health Management

Siemens Healthineers and IBM Watson Health Forge Global Alliance for Population Health Management

IBM Watson, Siemens Partner to Tap Population Health Industry

IBM Watson, Siemens Healthineers Partner to Globalize Population Health Management

IBM Health Swinging Big in Predictive Analytics

Explorys CMO: IBM Deal Will Fuel New Predictive Power

Aetna, Humana, Kaiser, UnitedHealth Put Five Billion Medical Claims into Database for Healthcare Cost, Utilization Research

Era of Healthcare Big Data Analytics Poised for Rapid Growth; Clinical Pathology Laboratory Test Data Will Have Important Role