Medtronic and IBM Watson


How a unique partnership between Medtronic and IBM may someday help people like firefighter John Barry better manage his diabetes

As a Dallas firefighter and paramedic—John Barry has seen the worst of what diabetes can do.

“Every day, I think about a 15-year-old girl who we couldn’t save because her sugar levels got too low and she was sleeping and couldn’t wake up to raise them up on time,” he said.

So when John himself was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, he was determined to take control of the disease.

Rather than daily injections, he chose a Medtronic continuous glucose monitor to track his sugar levels—and a Medtronic insulin pump to automatically supply insulin.

“The pump has been everywhere with me,” Barry said.

“It’s been into burning buildings with me,” he said. “I’ve been in some major fires. Two, three-hour fires, knocking down windows and doors with the pump.”

John is one of 387 million people with diabetes in the world – a number experts say could grow by 50 percent in the next 20 years.

It’s an epidemic in terms of lives impacted and rising healthcare costs.

“The number of people isn’t slowing down,” said Hooman Hakami, Executive Vice President and President, Medtronic Diabetes. “The cost isn’t slowing down. We need to do something different.”

That “something different” is a groundbreaking partnership between Medtronic and IBM’s famous cognitive computing technology known as Watson Health.

To date, Medtronic has collected 125 million patient days of anonymous data from insulin pumps and glucose monitors. That’s enough information to fill 20 percent of the books in the Library of Congress.

But only Watson Health is capable of crunching that data, adding mountains of anonymous medical records and fitness information, and then understanding it.

Together, Medtronic and IBM hope to combine the information Medtronic technology gathers with Watson’s ability to examine it, and discover new clues that can advance the treatment of diabetes.

“We believe that we can play a leadership role, but we can’t do it alone, and that’s where partnerships like the one we have with IBM come in,” Hakami said. “So we can take their capability, apply it to the knowledge and the products and the capability that we have to try to do something truly transformational.”

Because we all exercise, eat, sleep and live differently, diabetes is different for everyone.

In John’s case, even his state-of-the-art technology has limits. He still has to tell the system what he eats and when—and respond to alerts about his glucose levels.

Someday, Medtronic hopes to deliver a product for John that takes all of the manual steps out of his diabetes care—a true artificial pancreas. Partnerships like this one with IBM Watson help along the way. (Learn more about other Medtronic partnerships to transform diabetes care.)

“What we’re really trying to do is take it to a point where John doesn’t have to think about his diabetes. It’s sort of in the background. The system is doing the thinking,” Hakami said.

For others with diabetes, the partnership could mean integrated care that uses mobile devices to deliver real-time care plans and coaching. (Learn more about the recently approved MiniMed Connect.)

Those plans would be dynamic, constantly adjusting to a person’s lifestyle, habits and daily activities. Or management programs, created in partnership with doctors and hospitals that identify at-risk patients sooner, making their treatment more affordable and more effective.

It’s a vision for transformation in diabetes care that also means transformation for Medtronic.

“That means we’ve got to be not only in medical devices, we’ve got to use the data from those medical devices, turn that data into intelligence and insight, and then have the patients and providers be able to use that data to take action that can help benefit the patient ultimately,” Hakami said.

If you’re going to take on diabetes—you’ve got to think big. Who better to take that on together than two of the world’s greatest innovators?