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We look at how information, software and smart devices join up to create one consistent connected healthcare vision.
Healthcare is perhaps one of the industries that can benefit most from becoming a connected space, filled with IoT based solutions. But is healthcare ready to become a fully connected space, led by smart devices and even smarter spaces? We’re not sure. The potential is there, of course, and you have some great consumer-led applications and software products coming to market which will join the dots up more easily.
How affordable these technologies are and the triggers for mass-adoption and education for our existing healthcare professionals is yet to be seen. Sure, your new med student probably learns about fitness trackers, biometric sensors and other IoT enabled healthcare devices while still in the classroom. Your 50-year-old neurosurgeon however, has perhaps, not had time.
In this post, we take a look at the four crucial areas we believe will be essential to healthcare’s coming of age into a fully connected space, both in the hospital and beyond.
Making up the connected space as a whole, are all of your individual parts, namely your medical devices and smart items such as wearables which double up as healthcare devices.
For example, the Withings activity tracker or the Apple iWatch, which can use alerts to tell users when they’ve been sitting down for too long.
This blurs the line between a clinical health solution (something you would use only under the supervision of a doctor) and something you can take charge of yourself. Then you have devices like QardioCore, an ECG monitor designed to provide continuous medical grade data while fitting your lifestyle. This device is said to help reduce high blood pressure, high cholesterol and be an aid for anyone predisposed to diabetes, heart troubles or weight gain.
With these types of devices on hand we no longer have to wait for clinical diagnoses. We can monitor, adapt and improve our health alone. This could lead to a viable self-care model, where monitoring and prevention is better than cures and long waits in the medical room.
Of course, the onus on consumer health applications is that the consumer (us) has to take charge of them. How many times has your Apple iWatch bleeped to ask you to move and you’ve ignored it while studiously continuing your work? There’s a need for the joining up of consumer-grade technology, how these ‘plug into’ treatment plans and how the consumer becomes educated and accountable for using them.
Many of us know we should exercise more right? Just because you can track your step count doesn’t necessarily mean you’re on the path to improve it. Many studies on self-efficacy cite a substantial gap between recording information and changing behavior.
Within the healthcare connected space there are barriers to entry such as lack of time, money and education. Within our homes, the problem becomes even more widespread. This is where we see a gap between marketing and education on the products and how they contribute to health.
There are programs being developed where, rather than enabling patients with a fitness tracker and letting them be on their way, they become ongoing support groups. These involve weekly meetings, where patients receive guidance on health-related issues, led by data from the wearable devices they’ve been equipped with.
Recent research from Accenture suggests that IoT devices and software enabled for the detection or treatment of medical problems will save the U.S. healthcare system more than $100 billion in the next four years.
But can current healthcare facilities afford them in the first place? This is where we see the benefit of open-source IoT platforms and consumer grade hardware and software making the biggest difference.
For example, Kaa is an open-source IoT platform, allowing healthcare system integrators to establish cross-device connectivity and implement smart features into medical devices and related software systems. This joins up the need to deploy systems which can easily be implemented into our hospitals and the devices we already know and use. Again, taking down a barrier to entry that would otherwise make IoT a possibility that only the rich can afford.
Take digital signage as another example. In the past, digital screens in healthcare were a luxury most hospitals couldn’t afford. Setting just one screen up was hard work. It involved someone technical, a commercial-grade screen (expensive), clunky software that was difficult to change or the old favorite; a DVD player nailed to the wall, playing the same content on loop.
Today you have consumer-grade TV monitors, either smart TVs or regular TVs paired with $40 media players and cloud-based digital signage content (like ScreenCloud), with access to tools that make content production easy. This allows anyone, from anywhere, to upload content such as PDFs, images, videos and presentations onto any screen. The benefits of this within healthcare are huge and could do everything from reduce patient stress and perceived wait time, to better share crucial information with doctors.
This type of consumer-grade technology, as well as open source IoT platforms, will allow hospitals to better serve patients and for patients to better understand their healthcare systems.
Companies such as Zanthion are positioned not to help doctors better analyze healthcare issues, but to help real people look after their loved ones and track medical data and concerns from wherever they are. These smart devices are deployed in the home or a care home, carry sensors that track data, can notify others in the event of an emergency and analyze trends and recurring issues in order to aid prevention. This isn’t a system designed for in-hospital care; it’s one that’s looking to take the connected healthcare space and place it anywhere. Whether that’s in our homes, our parents’ care homes or even our daughter’s crib.
There are also systems of IoT devices being developed that can be used to share patient biometric data and care plans after they have been discharged from hospital. For example, diabetes management programs, or medical dispensing services which live firmly in the home rather than the hospital.
Fundamentally, wearables and other healthcare IoT devices aren’t out to replace doctors. They’re an aid against the work of human-to-human connection and learning. Only then might we see a true adoption between the devices, the information, the action and the patient who needs them.
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