IBM Watson HealthIBM’s Watson joins CVS Health to bring Big Data to people managing chronic conditions through the retail pharmacy channel.

Welcome to the mainstreaming of predictive analytics for health in the community. Or, as PC magazine put it, “CVS, IBM’s Watson Wants to Prevent You From Getting Sick.”

The core of the program would, in the words of CVS’s press release, “enable health care practitioners to quickly and easily gain insights from an unprecedented mix of health information sources such as medical health records, pharmacy and medical claims information, environmental factors, and fitness devices to help individuals stay on track with their care and meet health goals.”

Parsing this out, the alliance will work with health care practitioners — doctors and hospitals — to access Watson’s cognitive computing capabilities by bringing together data from a variety of sources (traditionally, data in siloes that don’t easily combine).

The first conditions the project will address will be diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and obesity — all of which are non-communicable diseases amenable to lifestyle interventions. I forecasted a deal such as this back in 2011 here in Health Populi on how primary care would/should extend into the community to help people better self-care.

IBM’s Chief Health Officer, Dr. Kyu Rhee, said the goal of the alliance is to “predict, prevent, and personalize.” “To predict, we will apply Watson’s cognitive computing to a wide range of data from electronic medical records, pharmacy records, wearables, fitness devices, home monitoring devices, consumer-oriented mobile apps, and more,” according to Dr. Rhee.

CVS and IBM will market the program to payors (insurers and self-insured employers) to identify patients/plan members who would most likely benefit from disease management programs, support medication adherence in people on maintenance medications, and — most provocatively, according to the press release — “suggest(ing) appropriate use of cost-effective primary care and out-patient providers.”

Here’s the CVS’s press release, titled CVS Health and IBM Tap Watson to Develop Care Management Solutions for Chronic Disease.

CVS also continues to announce relationships with health systems throughout the U.S. The most recent on with Lawrence (KS) Memorial Hospital and the Lehigh Valley (PA) Health Network will enable the hospitals to tap into CVS’s IT system to enhance prescription drug adherence and medication management for the hospitals’ patients.

Health Populi’s Hot Points:  The CVS-IBM alliance has the potential to disrupt not just community pharmacy, but the legacy health care value chain of a doctor and health care institution as the locus of the care team for a patient. In this model, the patient is at the center, and stakeholders surround and serve that individual to help them bolster health outcomes through medication management, adherence, and lifestyle choices that could make a difference in their overall health.

This is a big ecosystem view of health/care, and it’s an important develop that can help empower people to take on self-care closer to home than in the doctor’s office or hospital ambulatory clinic. Pharmacists are highly-trusted professionals in the health care team, and retail is also valued by people as a trusted channel for helping “me” manage “my” health, which I’ve been focusing on a lot lately.

The most provocative aspect of this announcement lies in the phrase I pulled out of the press release, reading, “suggest(ing) appropriate use of cost-effective primary care and out-patient providers.” Since IBM and CVS plan to market this program to insurance companies and employers, we’re looking at a third party — the CVS-Watson intermediary — coming into the physician-patient relationship with potential recommendations to switch providers or protocols. It will be fascinating to see how, from a marketing perspective, this gets “sold” to hospital and physician providers, like Lawrence and Lehigh Valley, who are already working with CVS on medication management programs.

A phrase used earlier in the press release — that CVS and IBM Watson will “enable health care practitioners to quickly and easily gain insights” into patients — is one thing. Nudging physicians to change care patterns is something different.

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