In Depth

How cognitive computing and cloud technology can improve our health and fitness

From medicine to athletics, IBM's cognitive, cloud-based technology is changing our understanding of the human body


After wowing with its quick-fire answers to win legendary US TV quiz show Jeopardy, IBM's Watson supercomputer is now turning its huge cognitive capabilities to another puzzler – how to improve our health and fitness.

Specifically, Watson wants to help improve patient experience and make hospital stays less daunting, particularly for the young, and so IBM has teamed up with staff at Alder Hey Children's Hospital in Liverpool and the Science and Technology Facilities Council in a £315m, five-year bid to create the UK's first "cognitive hospital".

For the first time in the UK, Watson is being used to help doctors and patients work better together. Using cloud-based technology, the software identifies any anxieties patients may have about their time in hospital and provides on-demand information for reassurance, as well as reminding young patients and their carers about upcoming appointments and providing vital feedback to doctors and clinicians.

It all starts with an appointment letter that contains a QR code allowing the patient to download the Alder Hey app.

The app will answer any questions the patients and their parents have on their upcoming stay, while also asking them a wide range of questions on anything from their experiences parking at the hospital to their favourite food and their must-see TV programmes. There will also be queries about their upcoming treatments to allow the app to get to know the patient and build up a personal profile.

The information is all fed back to Watson, allowing the platform not only to be able to answer these personal queries automatically and colloquially, but to help clinicians create personalised treatment plans.

Iain Hennessey, the clinical director of innovation at Alder Hey Children's Hospital, told The Drum the app is making treatments more personal and less anxious affairs for doctors and patients alike.

As an example, he draws on the experience of carrying out heart scans on children, which are vital for planning treatment. "To carry out the scan they need to sit still and relax for half an hour while we smear their chest with jelly and use big probes. You can imagine how difficult that can be with a three-year-old," he says.

Thanks to data from the app, the echocardiogram room can be personalised for each child, with projectors depicting images specifically chosen to relax and re-assure.

In time, the technology will also be able to offer insight into possible treatments – something Watson is already doing at a number of specialist cancer hospitals in the US, the BBC reports. The software can trawl through 40 million documents in in 15 seconds and offer instant feedback, insight or recommendations.

It's not only in health that the cognitive, cloud-based technology is proving a boon. The software is also helping top-class athletes perform at their very best in some of the world's biggest arenas.

Recently, IBM and Watson have joined forces with ORRECO, a leading firm in providing biomarker analysis for professional athletes and sports teams. The result is ‘Coach Watson’, an app that provides sportsmen and women with personalised strategies to enable them to reach optimum athletic performance.

It's all about arming athletes and their coaches with the vital information to make better decisions about training and minimise the risk of injuries. Coach Watson analyses biomarker data and training schedules, as well as nutrition, hydration, sleep patterns and even travel stress to create the best possible recommendations for even the smallest queries an athlete may have about their performance.

Each athlete uses blood biomarkers to generate a "Readiness to Perform Index", which is aggregated with these other data sources, exposing the small differences that exist between the sports world's elite and reveal how they can get even better.

Coach Watson can even predict how likely a certain training regime is to injure an athlete, plus reveal how they can recover faster from fatigue.

ORRECO isn't just optimising the performance of track athletes and Olympic hopefuls. Three-time Major winner Padraig Harrington is on their list together with former F1 driver Max Chilton, both of whom have used Watson analytics to get the edge over their competition.

Such apps could completely revolutionise how sportspeople prepare to perform in the future, says Bernhard Warner in Forbes.

Not only this but Watson's ability to reason, learn and interpret in multiple languages could mean that language barriers will no longer be an issue for athletes and coaches – as well as for health professionals – in the near future.

Adding cognitive computing to sports analytics and training has the potential to be a genuine game-changer.

See how businesses across industries are becoming smarter, faster and more innovative with IBM Watson

Learn how the IBM Cloud is designed to transform data into new insights and opportunities


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