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WHY THE INTERNET OF THINGS IS THE FUTURE OF HEALTHCARE

TECHNOLOGY IS GETTING A HECK OF A LOT SMARTER THESE DAYS.

Wristbands keep track of our fitness levels. Pill bottles remind us to take our medication. Beds automatically measure our sleep.

These connected devices and smart sensors, the Internet of Things (IoT), make it easier for consumers to build their own health journey. Consumers can track and automate various aspects of health, which in turn provides more comprehensive data for healthcare professionals to prevent, treat, and diagnose medical conditions.

With the healthcare Internet of Things market predicted to hit $117 billion by 2020 and global spending on IoT forecasted to reach $1.7 trillion by 2020, IoT is set to redefine the industry.

Let’s take a look at some changes we’re already seeing in 2017.

IT’S A SMALL WORLD AFTER ALL

Americans now own four digital devices on average. And predictions estimate that 50 billion devices will be connected to the Internet by 2020.

Over the past two years, we’ve seen Amazon Echo and Google Home lead the home assistant arms race. The two tech giants are building out IoT ecosystems that allow third-party devices to easily communicate with each other.

 

Photo from TechHive

 

One of the devices Echo connects with is smart mattress Eight, which helps you sleep better. The smart bed has the potential to integrate with other Alexa-friendly devices such as Philips Hue, so that the lights go on at the best time according to your circadian rhythms.

FitBit was also added to the list of Alexa integrations last year. Users can ask Alexa how they’re doing that day and the device will report back stats like how many steps they’ve taken that day and how close to goal they are. If the user hasn’t met their goal yet, Alexa might encourage them to keep going.

We’ve also seen healthcare giants take an interest in using IoT technology to build more integrated, seamless cross-channel experiences for their clients.

Just last spring, Boston Children’s Hospital rolled out a new “skill” called KidsMD on the Amazon Echo and other Alexa powered devices.

 


 

KidsMD makes it easy for parents to access information from Boston Children’s Hospital. Parents can consult the skill for a range of medical information, from dosing to identifying treatment based on health symptoms. KidsMD is intended to be a smarter, more powerful tool than Google search.

“We eventually intend to enable Alexa to give broader kinds of health care information via KidsMD, but we’re starting with symptoms that are of common concern to parents,” says Boston Children’s Chief Innovation Officer Dr. John Brownstein.

 


 

Borders NHS Foundation Trust also recently launched “The Technology Integrated Health Management Test Bed (THIM),” which aims to use IoT to create more accessible and affordable care for senior citizens.

The program aims to introduce IoT technology to 700 people suffering from dementia and their caretakers. These sensors, wearables, and monitors will allow patients to stay in their own homes for longer and potentially reduce the need for unplanned hospital visits.

“The potential with IoT is that throughout a whole care pathway a person’s data is continuously being gathered and used to help diagnose the patient so they can receive the best treatment as quickly as possible,” says Inova Design’s CEO Leon Marsh.

As the installed base of healthcare IoT devices grows to 646 million in 2020, big data is going to reinvent the industry.

From fitness to wellness and chronic illness, connected devices integrate wellness into various aspects of daily life, making it easier to take actionable steps towards a happier, healthier lifestyle.

BETTER HEALTH AT A LOWER COST

IoT technology can also help healthcare providers learn how to pare down their services to the essentials to give clients greater value for a lower cost.

A few years ago, health insurance startup Oscar recently launched a partnership with Misfit Wearables to encourage members to walk every day and to cut costs.

Oscar gave each of its 16,000 members a free Misfit wristband pedometer that connects to Oscar’s app. Members can set a daily target for the number of steps they want to walk that day. Each day members hit their goal, they earn a dollar.

 

Photo from Smartherapy

Since active clients mean lower costs for insurers, this program could actually save Oscar a lot of money in the long run.

“Walking more improves blood pressure, weight, and mental health. If Oscar can convince thousands of clients to be a bit more fit,  it could save millions of dollars in future health coverage costs,” says Mario Schlosser, CEO and co-founder.

Beam Dental is another great example of a healthcare organization using IoT to encourage healthier habits while cutting costs.

 


Photo from Fortune

 

Their entire business model is built around a smart toothbrush. Beam sends each client a smart toothbrush and sends notifications if someone is falling short of brushing standards. The hope is to encourage consumers to brush better and to reduce premiums.

Research shows that improved dental hygiene can reduce premiums by up to 25%.

IoT data can help professionals mitigate health risks earlier on and offer more targeted care. This lowers costs and frees up resources to administer treatment where it’s most needed.

WHERE IS MY INFORMATION GOING AGAIN?

Surveys show that more than 60% of online users want to know why, what, and how websites select content personalized for them.

Trust and loyalty are two big pieces of the customer experience that healthcare companies will have to grapple with as IoT becomes more mainstream.

Which brings us back to the question… what about all of that data Oscar collected?

How do we know insurance companies won’t use the data to increase costs for patientswho are less fit or have greater health needs?

“We are so heavily regulated on what we do with information–especially compared to other health apps on your phone,” Schlosser explains.

In recent years, regulations have evolved to protect consumers in this increasingly digital world.

HIPPA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), HITECH, and the FTC (Federal Trade Commision) Acts have been established to protect patient information and ensure confidentiality.

The HIPPA and HITECH acts govern the usage and disclosure of private health information (PHI).

Though it stands today, there are still some gaps there to be filled (as Schlosser hinted at)

PHI is narrowly defined by the type of business the information goes to and the way it’s used.

This means medical data not collected from a healthcare provider potentially falls outside the range of HIPPA and HITECH protection. Various types of data collected from IoT are not by protected by these regulations. This includes information exchanged over the cloud, mobile health apps, and more.

The FTC (Federal Trade Commision) Act does pick up a little bit where HIPPA leaves off, offering consumers more security on IoT devices.

The FTC ensures that all consumer data collected is relevant, reasonable, and transparent. This holds companies accountable for building out content, design, and user interfaces that make it clear to consumers exactly how their data is being collected and how it’s being used.

As the IoT healthcare landscape shifts in the coming years, healthcare companies should familiarize themselves with these regulations and keep a close eye on changing laws.

IOT MAKES US ALL MINI HEALTH PRACTITIONERS

The IoT has made it possible for patients to work side-by-side with professionals to customize their own health journey.  Worse only when you’re trying to self-diagnose and you end up in a spiral of paranoia (suddenly your cold looks like a mutated strain of five different deadly viruses).

There’s no knowing what IoT will bring in the coming years. But one thing’s for sure.

More connected devices means more data. Each swipe, tap, and command will be an engagement that is logged. And each engagement tells you something valuable about an individual’s health.

Healthcare teams will have to learn how to collect, organize, and analyze this fragmented data to create meaningful experiences for consumers.

Big data not only holds the potential for more personalized individual care, but it can also help identify bigger trends and symptoms that can lead to some ground-breaking cures at a greater level.

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