Layoffs Suggest Deeper Problems Within Watson Health

Watson Health, an IBM project, cut staff from recently acquired data companies Explorys, Phytel, and Truven Health Analytics in an extensive round of layoffs in May. While IBM maintains that this is a normal part of the acquisitions process, former employees and industry analysts say it indicates deeper problems.

Watson Health uses IBM’s Watson supercomputer to analyze vast amounts of health-care data and make treatment recommendations to providers. IBM’s acquisitions of health-care companies have added to the database available to Watson, potentially allowing for improved recommendations and, in turn, patient outcomes.

The company has faced unexpected challenges in harmonizing data from different sources and integrating newly acquired companies into the Watson Health workforce. Some products, including Watson for Oncology, have underperformed, leading hospitals and other health-care providers to reevaluate their relationships with Watson Health and, in some cases, end their contracts.

Lawton Robert Burns, PhD, professor of health-care management at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, is skeptical of IBM’s claims that Watson Health can quickly improve health-care treatment and delivery. “The outsiders not only don’t understand the ecosystem in which they are trying to work and disrupt, but they also don’t understand the generation of information, and how it’s used, and whether they can do something different with it,” Burns said. “I’m not as optimistic about big data and analytics in the short term as they are.”

Source: STAT News, June 11, 2018.