Following the announcement to acquire Merge Healthcare Incorporated in August 2015, IBM has confirmed that it has completed the $1 billion acquisition of one of the leading providers of medical image handling and processing, interoperability and clinical systems.

The acquisition is the latest initiative by IBM to advance Watson’s natural language processing (NLP) capabilities by giving the supercomputer ‘eyes’ to review and interpret medical images. The organisation hopes to unlock the value of medical images to help doctors make better patient care decisions.

Merge’s technology platforms are used at more than 7,500 US healthcare sites, as well as many of the world’s leading clinical research institutes and pharmaceutical firms to manage a growing body of medical images. IBM anticipates that these organisations will now look to use the Watson Health Cloud to surface new insights from a consolidated, patient-centric view of current and historical images, electronic health records (EHRs), consumer contributed data from wearable devices and other related medical data, in a HIPAA-enabled cloud environment. These insights can help clinicians to efficiently identify options for the diagnosis, treatment and monitoring of a broad array of health conditions such as cancer, stroke and heart disease.

Merge will become part of IBM’s new Watson Health business unit, bolstering IBM clients’ ability to analyse and cross-reference medical images against 315 billion data points already in the Watson Health Cloud, including lab results, EHRs, genomic tests, clinical studies and other health-related data sources.

Merge’s clients will now have the ability to compare new medical images with a patient’s medical history as well as populations of similar patients to detect changes and anomalies. Insights generated by Watson could then help healthcare providers and researchers to pursue more personalised approaches to diagnosis, treatment and monitoring of patients.

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