Healthcare is on the cusp of big changes and growth propelled by the adoption of the Internet of Things (IoT). According to a recent report from MarketResearch.com, the IoT for healthcare is poised to hit $117 billions by 2020. Leveraging high-speed connectivity, wireless IoT devices (sensors, wearables and health apps) are contributing to the changing healthcare landscape. Healthcare providers who are under increasing pressure to maximise patient outreach and minimise costs look to IoT for solutions to optimise efficiencies. These solutions serve to enhance access to healthcare information, improve distribution of routine and emergency health services and provide well-informed diagnostic services. Health providers are adjusting to the future of an IoT, data-driven healthcare in which many stakeholders and new players look set to contribute.
New diagnostic procedures are made possible by wireless sensors and wearable technologies recording fitness, vital signs, blood constituent, and ambient inputs. A patient’s condition can be more thoroughly assessed when usual diagnostic tools are supplemented with information on the patient’s own health and lifestyle choices and referenced to big data analytics for patient care. Factors such as physical activity, caloric burn and intake, blood pressure, blood glucose, BMI, and sleep pattern can be compared with health and recovery patterns of the population to help medical staff administer timely preventative or prescriptive medical assistance.
Wireless IoT in healthcare enables many patients to live more independently without the need for in-hospital care or constant medical appointments and also better serves the underserviced and remote populations. Further supporting people living in remote areas, widely available LTE will facilitate services that require high-speeds such as remote video consultation and specific diagnostic procedures.
Scientists can benefit from the mining of big data relating to the health and lifestyles of many, collected from millions of connected wireless devices. Wearable technologies and health apps create opportunities for big data analytics that can be used in medical research to better understand and treat disease and in the identification of health patterns in populations. For example, Apple’s HealthKit is a tool enabling development of health and fitness apps that can potentially gather data from the 700+ million iPhones in use. Launched earlier this year, Apple’s ResearchKit, an open source software framework, works with HealthKit by enabling medical researchers to tap into this pool of health and fitness information.
Other uses for wireless sensors in non-clinical applications are being conceived. Sensor devices can be deployed in consignments to monitor in-transit conditions of vaccines or pathology samples to ensure these fragile contents are not in any way compromised. As an example, Sendum’s package tracker can be used to track and monitor in real time packages/deliveries with contents requiring strict storage and handling guidelines. With integrated sensors for a range of environmental inputs, the tracker sends alerts of the changed conditions of a package in transit. Other applications for wireless sensors in healthcare include the tracking and monitoring of trolleys and equipment in hospitals and out on patient loan, through to the location of medical staff and patients.
Expect more types of services tracking and payment applications to become available to effectively deal with healthcare reimbursement. Medicare and insurance companies want to ensure services are performed before they are paid out. Tracking solutions for the scheduling and communication of services rendered can provide connectivity platforms that bring together various sources of data about patients and ensure that the care to be delivered was in fact delivered.
Telcos. acting as facilitators, integrators, and hosts for solutions, are developing IoT enabled healthcare solutions to deliver value added services alongside connectivity. Telstra recently acquired Anywhere Healthcare, a provider of healthcare over video conferencing and Dr Foster, a health analytics firm. These acquisitions form part of the telco’s ambition to build a significant health business in Australia. TELUS, a major Canadian mobile operator, offers information solutions to health providers that include electronic medical records EMR and electronic health records (EHR), health analytics, claims/benefits and pharmacy management through its TELUS Health arm.
IoT in healthcare is an evolving concept and one that is complex to uptake for most health providers. Dealing with optimising current EHR systems, health care providers understandably baulk at the changes required for data-driven healthcare. Questions raised range from data quality and relevance, data use and security to the implementation of IoT systems – whether their current EHR systems can be enhanced with IoT add-ons or whether entire systems need overhauling with a firm eye on the future.
Planning for the connected, data-focussed future of healthcare takes vision requiring an open mind and calculated approach. Successful healthcare integration of IoT is dependent on defining and achieving objectives through a combination of new technologies and traditional knowledge. It depends on the whole organisation embracing the IoT, understanding that improved quality to patient care, meeting of clinical benchmarks, and operational efficiencies are the result. Healthcare providers need to keep in mind that prospective IT purchases should address the key elements of data standards, interoperability, and analytics to be open to future IoT development
The potential of IoT in healthcare will bring in new players with connectivity suppliers, device and health gateway vendors, online applications, and existing vertically integrated players all increasing their offerings to meet the demands of this growing market. IoT in healthcare involves the creation of a sustainable ecosystem of stakeholders and collaboration partners from both healthcare and technology industries.