Is Cognitive Computing the Future of Healthcare?

Is Cognitive Computing the Future of Healthcare?

The healthcare industry is poised for big changes, largely propelled by various high tech innovations surrounding connected health. The digitization of healthcare (medical devices, health monitors, patients’ records and more) is expected to bring numerous benefits to patients, professionals and hospitals alike, including increased efficiency, flexibility and cost savings.

American multinational IBM has emerged as one of the leading companies in this area. In October, IBM, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and Harman International announced they would work together to launch cognitive hospital rooms powered by IBM Watson Internet of Things. These rooms will enhance the patient experience by bringing unprecedented levels of personalized, agile and responsive care to the patients.  

Let’s take a closer look at their plans.


Bert Greenstein, Vice President of IBM Watson’s Internet of Things Platform, recently wrote that “cognitive care can be applied to patients at a hospital, seniors at home, students at school, or any service provider that requires individual attention.”

The collaboration combines IBM’s expertise in data and artificial intelligence with Harman’s array of audio, video, lighting and control systems. The Jefferson University Hospital plans to install IoT-powered speakers in some of its hospital rooms, which will be connected to the IBM Watson IoT Platform. Patients in these rooms will be able to interact with the speakers, allowing them to operate lights and window blinds, or even ask questions about the hospital facilities and their own medical information.

In a press release from October, IBM provided the following examples of its capabilities:

For example, patients can request information (i.e.: ‘When can my brother visit me on Tuesday?’ or ‘Tell me about my doctor’), request specific actions (i.e.: ‘Play waterfall music,’ or ‘Make the room warmer or cooler’), trigger actions (i.e.: ‘Remind me to get up and walk every four hours’), and have an interactive dialogue with the speaker (i.e.: ‘Conduct a survey and record the responses for my nurse’), which can help make a patient's hospital stay more comfortable, relaxed and enjoyable.”

Soon after the announcement, the teams got to work on developing a working prototype of a cognitive environment of care. IBM say pilot testing has recently been completed and the companies are now looking to develop a roadmap and go-to-market plans.


Finland could be one of the first locations outside of the United States that we see cognitive healthcare in operation. The Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation (Tekes) has signed a deal with IBM to use their cognitive computing platform. As part of the deal, IBM plans to set up a number of Watson Health centres in the country, including the tech giant’s first national imaging centre outside the United States.

Why Finland? It all comes down to data.

The Nordic country has a unique health ecosystem that is ideally suited to cognitive computing. Not only does it have nationwide access to healthcare, but has national electronic health records, biobanks and a cancer registry database of all cases in the country dating back to 1953. It also happens to be a European forerunner in designing new legislation for secondary and secure use of data on well-being and health.

IBM and Tekes believe artificial intelligence will play a major role in the future of healthcare. In particular, it will enable more personalized and home healthcare, which is a market expected to be worth $300 billion by 2022. But making this vision a reality requires further innovation, and this is why Tekes says it has partnered with IBM.


These partnerships are just the latest in a string of IBM Watson collaborations and announcements. Earlier this year, IBM Watson also announced partnerships with the American Diabetes Association and a Wisconsin cancer treatment center.

The tech giant also launched the industry’s first IBM Watson IoT Consulting Solutions practice to help clients drive digital transformation with the IoT. The company employs 1500 experts across Asia, Europe and the United States that will assist their clients in integrating IBM Watson IoT Platform APIs and technologies, including analytics, cognitive, cloud capabilities, mobile and security.

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