Artificial intelligence’s (AI's) reputation is having a significant reputational uplift. We have an Academy Award-nominated film, The Imitation Game (, about arguably the father of AI, or even modern computing, that advocates passionately for the power of AI. We have IBM founding a new division, "Watson," based on the premise that cognitive computing can in fact be a profitable cloud-based business service that IBM offers.

Looking at my own domain of punditry "software for healthcare," I have to ask what, if anything, does all of this AI thaw means to the technology, operational, financial, and marketing executives in Forrester’s client base? To answer that we have to look what products or solutions have entered the marketplace that are capable of changing the core models of healthcare.

After over a year of research, we are capable of saying that cognitive computing is important to healthcare and is more than a science project. What we have found is that there is a divide between big health care business and smaller ones. The big businesses, the ones that are true centers of excellence in the provider, payer, and drug research arena are using the advances of cognitive computing machine learning and big data to innovate in fundamental ways.

We also see AI's march into the main stream, as is always true in healthcare, will be slow. So, while IBM and Memorial Sloan Kettering might be deploying its Watson’s Oncology Advisor trained by Memorial Sloan Kettering to a hospital network that spans four nations, we do not have the peer-reviewed research to show that the outcomes for those who use the advisor are better. Because we do not have this peer-reviewed research, the change to clinical practices that will incorporate these sorts of sophisticated decision support engines will potentially be slow.

Market forces, such as the drive to retail medicine exemplified by companies like Wal-Mart going into the primary care business, drive these cognitive solutions to market more quickly. As the model for urgent care and primary care move ‘down license’ where physician assistants, and nurse practitioners, diagnose, and write more and more of the core orders for labs, and prescriptions the need for AI assisted clinical support to integrate with Electronic Medical Record work flows will increase. The pressure to use these tools in order to drive down the cost of primary care will be intense.

We see an increasing number of vendors who offering cognitive solutions and services, and we see mature technology products such as Reed Elsevier’s Clinical Key that embed these services in their cloud-based solutions.  

My recent research “Healthcare Meets Cognitive Computing” goes deeper on these topics. It points to a changing business model within healthcare accelerating the globalization of healthcare delivery, i.e. one of my most constant themes: As Healthcare's analytical and operational workflows become increasingly embedded in software, we will see an increasing automation of care delivery. That automation empowers increasingly globalized care delivery infrastructure where remote medicine is practiced globally. Fierce competition will determine which care-delivery organizations will prevail. The ones that do will create profound digital capabilities.