IBM announced its intent to buy Truven Health Analytics today for a whopping $2.6 billion. It is the fourth major purchase for Watson Health since the unit was established in 2014.
Watson Health was formed when IBM purchased Phytel and Explorys in April, 2014. Both companies had the common denominator of being data-driven health companies. The unit added Merge Healthcare for another billion dollars last August to give the company access to a huge store of imaging data.
With today’s purchase, IBM gets access to Truven’s cloud-based data repository, 2500 employees and 8500 clients, including U.S. federal and state government agencies, employers, health plans, hospitals, clinicians and life sciences companies.
While Truven gives IBM a treasure trove of data on hundreds of types of cost, claims, quality and outcomes information, it’s not just about the data for data’s sake, says Anil Jain, VP of Watson Health who came to the unit through the Explorys acquisition.
“We’re getting the data and all the resources to make sense of it and help us scale and [provide] data driven-insights and knowledge-driven insights,” Jain told TechCrunch.
He added that the data requires human experts to make sense of it and the 2500 employees coming over in the deal include data scientists, researchers and a host of other experts who will be added to Watson Health.
It’s one thing to buy all of these pieces, it’s another to put it together into a coherent unit. While Jain acknowledges that taking all of the data, people and various client bases from the previous purchases and putting them together into a coherent platform of services will be challenging, he points out that IBM has a great deal of experience doing that with acquisitions.
“Think of the Watson Health Platform — the cloud, the core technology being available for solutions being built for our client base. In some cases, we will build those solutions, in other cases they will be built by our partners,” he said.
IBM partners include Apple, Medtronic, Johnson & Johnson, Teva Pharmaceuticals, Novo Nordisk, and CVS Health.
For people who worry about the privacy implications of IBM having access to all of this health information, Jain says they get this question often. First of all, they comply with HIPAA in terms of patient confidentiality, he said. They also use a system that doesn’t identify the individual patient to give a big-picture view of a particular diagnosis or outcome. The idea is to give the provider as much information as possible without having to identify the information about the patient behind the data.
As Jain explains it, if a complex patient has a particular set of symptoms, Watson can help bring together data about other patients with a similar look, pointing out the pattern and without identifying the specific patient associated with the data. If a doctor can look at the various procedures, outcomes and medical journal data he or she can understand the patient’s condition in the context of all this information and come up with better diagnoses and treatments.
“There are right ways and wrong ways of sharing information for everyone in the stakeholder ecosystem to get the benefit. At the end of the day the consumer or patient is at center of what we are trying to achieve,” he said.
It’s worth noting that the stakeholders include patients, doctors, insurance companies and researchers, all of whom have an interest.
While the individual purchased companies that make up Watson Health will continue to operate in their various locations, the unit is in the process of building a new headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts. They expect it to open later this year.