IBM to Buy Merge Healthcare for $1B to Make Watson Health Even Smarter

Watson Health is ushering in a new kind of data-driven healthcare where medical professionals can work together with Watson to optimize the healthcare experience. In order to boost Watson’s intelligence, IBM recently bought Merge Healthcare for $1 billion. The purchase is still subject to regulatory and shareholder approval, but will likely be complete by the end of this year. The medical imaging company will help the Watson Health unit understand medical imaging, which is fundamental to success since according to IBM, 90% of all medical data today is in the form of images.

Watson has been focused primarily on understanding natural language processing, whether spoken or writing. More recently, IBM has been experimenting with Watson’s ability to understand pictures and video. IBM is buying Merge Healthcare specifically to showcase this new ability and to provide new research and understanding in radiological diagnostics. Radiologists in particular are being challenged by the tsunami of data in healthcare, says Dr. Elliot Siegel, a physician who has worked with IBM on Watson since the beginning.

Dr. Siegel says the number of images radiologists have to deal with has gone up 100 fold in the last 20-25 years. These doctors have to process all of this visual information sometimes looking at 100,000 images a day, all while trying to cross correlate with medical records that can run hundreds or even thousands of pages. Radiologists must also take lab and genomic data into account as well as the latest medical research. It is nearly impossible to take all this information for each patient and make an accurate diagnosis with such limited time. Dr. Siegel believes faced with that amount of information and such little time, computer systems namely Watson will truly enhance diagnostics. Watson will help sift through the mounds of data, understand complex images, and ultimately help doctors make faster, more accurate diagnoses. 

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