Today, your watch can track your steps, sleep and heart rate. It can even monitor whether you have depression symptoms. There are also smart insulin pens to better manage diabetes and connected inhalers for asthma treatment, as well as ingestible sensors that can improve how regularly you take your medication.
It’s happening. The implementation of the Internet of Things (IoT) for healthcare is revolutionizing the industry by redefining the relationship between patients and physicians, improving treatment outcomes and reducing costs. How far this shift will take us when combined with Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Blockchain or whether this is the near future of medical care is anybody’s guess at the moment.
So far, the IoT in healthcare is mainly focused on remote monitoring of patients and on tracking and maintenance of assets. That means that IoT devices are used to give patients access to personalized attention and to enable physicians to keep track of patient’s adherence to treatment plans. They also allow hospitals to know the real-time location of medical equipment and to lessen emergency room wait times. Last but not least, they help insurers reduce claims significantly.
Yet the possibilities opened by healthcare IoT connected devices are endless, says Eugene Borukhovich, Global Head of G4A Digital Health at Bayer, who will be participating in the Internet of Things Solutions World Congress (IoTSWC), to be held in Barcelona 29-31 October. It goes “from extracting digital biomarkers from your voice to analyzing environmental parameters in order to move the whole ecosystem towards prevention and not only care”, he adds. It’s clear which way the wind is blowing.
Indeed, prevention is a key concept directly benefitting the patient as well as impacting the economic outturn account. And probably this is one of the reasons why the number of adopters of the Internet of Things in healthcare is growing steadily. According to McKinsey, spending on IoT solutions in healthcare could reach $1.6 trillion (high estimate) by 2025. As for the number of healthcare IoT devices, Business Insider forecasts it will reach 646 million in 2020. How all these devices will be powered is another issue.
Sanitas, which will be presenting successful use cases in the IoTSWC, considers that “IoT is fundamental for the healthcare industry because it brings added value.” “We have insights on what is happening in our ecosystem on a daily basis”, says Tania Menéndez Hevia, Head of Connected Health at Sanitas Hospitales. This means creating new products and new concepts such as bringing hospital care home, which translates into a better service to the healthcare customer.
For the moment, the insurer is using devices built by third parties including blood pressure monitors, fitness bands, spirometers for lung function evaluation, scales, and connected tools for electrocardiograms (EKG). All these devices are connected to an APP developed by Sanitas. Doctors get data through a dashboard linked to the Electronic Medical Record of each patient.
Until last year, this project was pro bono, says Tania Menéndez Hevia. The analysis of data was utilized to identify successful use cases, such as how to use fitness bands to improve fertility treatments. No need to say the data used was encrypted. Menéndez acknowledges that IoT poses privacy risks and security concerns about medical data transfer. This is why the company’s system was tested by a white hat hacker to detect vulnerabilities in the first place and, after that, substantially strengthened.
It is clear that both privacy and security issues need to be analyzed to make IoT healthcare devices socially acceptable even if sometimes it generates profound contradictions. “We, the people, ask the governments to protect privacy, but also ask them to improve care. That curve between privacy and best care someday has to give on one side or the other”, puts Bayer’s Borukhovich. Indeed, how much information people want to give away is a crucial matter.
All the more as “personalized medicine is the future”, according to Sanitas’ Head of Connected Health, Tania Menéndez Hevia. Yet this approach still raises questions as to whether such use could be inequitable, especially when talking about using genetic information. In the end, “It’s about how the industry can help the healthcare consumer experience to make every person the best version of themselves”, Borukhovich concludes.