IBM has launched a health unit to make sense of the wealth of data created by the recent increase in fitness trackers and apps.
The new unit, known as Watson Health, aims to create “a secure, cloud-based data sharing hub” that can feed analytic technologies.
The unit said that, with the user’s permission, it could provide diagnoses or health alerts which could also be sent to doctors, carers or insurers.
IBM teamed up with Apple in a bid to launch “new employee health and wellness management solutions.”
Watson Health said it is buying two firms to help with its goal; Explorys and Phytel. Explorys has one of the largest healthcare databases in the world and Phytel works with digital medical record systems to reduce hospital readmissions and automate communications.
IBM says its aim is to provide “individualised insights and a more complete picture of the many factors that can affect people’s health”.
There has however been a great deal of concern over personal technology being used to diagnose an individual’s condition.
The Federal Trade Commission has criticised some apps in the US after they claimed to diagnose cancer, for example.
There’s great concern over the sharing of health data, with companies such as Jawbone talking to firms about how personal fitness tracker apps could be used to monitor a workforce.
UK solicitor Christopher Coughlan has written on this particular subject and advises bosses who are considering this move to be very careful.
He said: “If you rely on consent it must be freely given. This means a worker must be able to say ‘no’ without a penalty being imposed and must be able to withdraw consent once given.
“A person is more likely to be in this position at the recruitment stage than when they are employed.”
GP Ellie Cannon has welcomed the move however.
She said: “It is always difficult to gauge how much exercise or calories a patient is describing and this is an accurate way to know.
“On a larger scale… the data could provide evidence to back up or dispute well-known health claims such as how much sleep we need or which exercise is most effective.”