• February 15, 2017

Report: Stayin’ Alive: Live Longer With IoT

IoT devices can cut costs, speed up processes, and lead to longer, healthier lives. 

By Marc Wilkinson, Chief Technologist & Mobility Global Practice lead, HPE Enterprise Services

Today, healthcare is largely a reactive industry. It kicks into action when people become ill or suffer injuries, working to correct health deviations instead of focusing on keeping people well. This is the fundamental reason why healthcare costs in Western nations continue to escalate, outpacing the rate of inflation by wide margins. Aging populations in Western nations exacerbate these trends. Management of long-term chronic conditions is fast becoming the norm, and new innovations in healthcare to confront these challenges result in new, more expensive, treatments.

It’s a prime environment for disruption.

What if doctors took on an active role in their patients’ care, working with them while they’re healthy to stay healthy instead of primarily when they get sick or injured? What if people actively worked with healthcare practitioners to avoid ill health and to manage chronic conditions to keep them from getting worse? Shifting to a wellness model could be a hugely disruptive solution to the cost problem while it improves health outcomes.

To paraphrase The Tao of Pooh, we don’t need to shift our responsibilities onto the shoulders of some deified healthcare superman, or sit around and wait for fate to come knocking at our door. We simply need to believe in the power within us—and use it. When we do that, things begin to work for us. Sensor technology, mobility, and the Internet of Things (IoT) can help mobilize that personal power.

A Living Network

Imagine if healthcare providers were able—through aggregated anonymized data—to spot emerging infectious disease trends. Hospitals and clinics could get early warnings. Vital stocks of medications and other medical supplies could be automatically ordered. Emergency staff could be marshaled and put on alert. This ability to leverage data and analytics to spot trends and manage public health holistically is powerful stuff.

Other promising devices that could transform the healthcare sphere are either here or on the horizon. There are wearables that monitor glucose levels in patients suffering from diabetes. These devices automatically dispense insulin in a way that mirrors a functioning pancreas. Connected biosensors can track heart and respiratory rates, skin temperature, and body posture and include fall-detection alerts.

Bluetooth-connected wearables can be placed over an injured part of the body to track activity levels and stimulate the area to alleviate pain. There are even wearables that help women precisely track their individual ovulation cycles to maximize the chances of conception.

Managing Transitions and Workflows

Connected sensing technologies can be crucial tools to bridge gaps in transitional care. Wearable devices can benefit patients by monitoring vitals in transitional settings — such as from intensive care to a regular hospital room—or after returning home from a healthcare facility following a procedure. These devices connect real-time data and analytics with tools and dashboards that provide clinicians with actionable insights. This can greatly enhance early detection capabilities and prompt intervention strategies.

To automate medications management, smart refrigerators track vaccines and other temperature-sensitive medications by utilizing RFID technologies and user identification tracking. These devices monitor supply levels and expiration dates and can automatically reorder medications when supplies run low. Connected healthcare environments can track asset usage, authenticate authorized users of specific equipment, and monitor medication dispensing to ensure patients receive the right doses at the right time.

These systems can dramatically reduce unnecessary tests and procedures by providing clinicians with a comprehensive view of patient health. They can also be integrated into workflows, creating audit trails so that healthcare payers can see treatment patterns in real time. The resulting care value chains and pay value chains not only improve care by fostering preventive strategies, they reduce costs.

Data Dangers

To maximize the benefits of IoT in the healthcare sphere, information must be shared. But as we collect more and more personal data, a number of privacy and security issues and questions arise. For example, who owns my health data? Is it mine or will my health provider regard it as theirs, as hospitals and doctors typically do today? Who can access my data?

In general, people are happy to share their personal information if there is some reciprocal value. Most patients would be OK sharing health information with a paramedic responding to an emergency call, for example, if the data will improve care and health outcomes. But would these same people be comfortable granting this access to employers or insurance companies?

All of the data that could potentially fuel great leaps in positive health outcomes is extremely personal; and, so far, we haven’t demonstrated we’re very good at securing it. Actualizing the potential of IoT in the healthcare sphere will require proactive management strategies that include vigilant security and incentives for sharing health information to fuel technologies that improve health outcomes.

Activating the Proactive

A healthcare industry saturated with IoT technologies will generate real benefits in terms of improved outcomes and reduced costs. Yet the benefit earnings don’t stop there. IoT-enabled healthcare systems greatly increase speed-to-care.

And healthcare is all about speed. Imagine a person has just suffered a stroke. The faster critical care professionals can get to the patient and begin treatment, the better the outcome—by a significant margin. Real-time interactive healthcare dashboards could prove crucial in these situations. Dashboards provide quick insights in an easy-to-grasp visual format. One health system used a dashboard for sepsis patients to quickly identify those whose condition was trending toward crisis. Result: They reduced sepsis mortality rates by 22 percent.

IoT devices coupled with display technologies such as dashboards speed up processes, shave costs, improve health, and save lives. These interconnected devices and networked systems have the potential to completely disrupt a huge, highly complex industry, shifting it from reactive to proactive. And that’s healthy.

Learn more about leveraging data, analytics, and the Internet of Things.