OpenMedReady formed, IBM flails in health-related layoffs

A new healthcare technology alliance has been formed this week, OpenMedReady, potentially a sign of the opportunity for its founders – ARM, ForgeRock, Philips, Qualcomm Life, Sparsa, and US TrustedCare. However, IBM is struggling in this department, and has reportedly begun laying off between 50-70% of the workforce it picked up through a number of health-focused acquisitions.

OpenMedReady is essentially a framework that aims to bring together some existing standards and approaches, in order to provide remote patient monitoring. The five areas it addresses are: patient monitoring, patient identity, patient privacy, device identity, data integrity, and consent.

Hospitals are extremely interested in remote monitoring, as it allows them to free up in-hospital resources. However, because of the high-risk nature of such monitoring, they need to absolutely trust the data coming in from the remote devices – so that they don’t let someone die on their watch.

Similarly, remote monitoring can allow them to spot small problems before they turn into much larger and more dangerous ones. For example, it might be much easier to convince a patient to submit a blood press or ECG reading via their smartphone and an issued sensing device than to get them to come in for weekly or monthly checkups, which could then lead to better preventative care instead of an emergency operation.

But for such an ecosystem to work, the hospital has to trust every component in that flow, and there will also be the necessary medical regulation and laws to comply with. This is where OpenMedReady is stepping in. Fingerprint biometrics in smartphones will authenticate users, and the medical sensors will be securely paired with these phones, which will then pass on their readings to the cloud-based applications.

“Historically, clinicians have been reluctant to use remote patient data for clinical decision-making, due in part to the concerns regarding identity management, consent and data integrity,” said James Mault, chief medical officer at Qualcomm Life. “OpenMedReady combines connected sensors with modern smartphone capabilities to provide doctors a cryptographic log of a patient’s identity, their device’s identity and their consent, giving care teams the confidence they need to treat patients based on data acquired remotely.”

To this end, OpenMedReady will be acting as a middle layer between the device connectivity standards, typically (almost exclusively) Bluetooth, as well as the IEE and HL7 FHIR Electronic Health Records (EHR) standards, and then the upper layer data exchange frameworks like Continua Design Guidelines.

Karthik Ranjan, director of healthcare strategy at Arm, added: “Future remote patient analytics platforms will employ artificial intelligence for greater data accuracy, speed and scale in managing outcomes of large patient populations. OpenMedReady enhances remotely acquired data by increasing its provenance, bringing us closer to the reality of closed loop health systems. Automatically reacting to a patient’s condition and orchestrating the right response will help to avoid costly hospitalization and doctor visits while reducing billions of dollars from the healthcare system.”

Security specialist ForgeRock notes that the OpenMedReady specification framework is a collaborative effort, linking Bluetooth (connectivity), FIDO (user authentication), OAuth (device authentication), User-Managed Access (Oath-based data access management), and HEART (Healthy Relationship Trust, similar to UMA), as well as Continua and FHIR.

Turning now to IBM, it is reported that IBM has cut between 50% and 70% of its Watson Health division. IBM has spent a lot of money to acquire talent to fuel its AI offering, paying $2.6bn for Truven’s medical data expertise in 2016, and $1bn for Merge’s medical imaging skill in 2015, and also Explorys. IBM is not commenting on the layoffs, but there were reportedly around 7,000 staff in the division.

It’s the latest in a string of layoffs from IBM, and perhaps a sign that the division is not close to generating the profits desired. With AI, there is always the opportunity to automate staff functions, and so reduce the headcount. However, the integrations with hospital systems are complex, and there are so many different variations that a skilled design and integration team is definitely needed.

It’s not yet clear if IBM is just trimming the fat from a bloated division, or if it is gutting a team as a last-ditch attempt to turn a profit by slashing the staff costs. Time will tell, but IBM is not being drawn on the matter yet. There is a lot of bad sentiment in comment sections, whenever IBM is brought up, and there seem to be two sides to the camp – that IBM is making tough but necessary cuts to slim down and become a leaner business, or that it is simply trying to appease share holders and is willing to ruin its long-term prospects and historic reputation to do appease the bean counters.