Much has been said of the “Internet of Things” and the connected world. Some common examples are fun distractions—like sitting in a café and getting a notification on your mobile handset that a friend has posted a photo, new-age conveniences like your thermostat learning your heating habits or business focused technologies like automated assembly lines. But for health care, the implications can be quite literally lifesaving. Picture a cardiologist in a café receiving an automatic mobile notification when his patient’s ECG shows a possible heart attack. In a connected health care world he can immediately take action from right there in the café. In the past he might have to wait for the call or page and travel all the way to the hospital before having the full picture and being able to properly instruct his staff. Those are precious moments lost when a life is in the balance.
We’re seeing more and more examples of how connectivity is transforming the way health care is delivered and coordinated. Like other industries, the amount of data being generated, collected and analyzed in health care is astounding. However, unlike other industries where the data is primarily used only by engineers and marketers, health care is seeing the consumers themselves become increasingly engaged and in tune with the data they generate. The rise in popularity of wearable biometrics tracking devices and apps is meteoric and will only continue to skyrocket with new technologies like smart watches. And many people are not only tracking this data—they’re sharing it with their friends and family on social media platforms, creating a growing health “data wake.”
While there are some obvious benefits already— people tracking their health data are more likely to instill healthy habits such as exercise and balanced diets into their daily life—the tremendous opportunity to put this wealth of data to use and improve the health care industry has yet to be tapped. The stars have aligned and the industry is ready to make connected health care a reality. So what will this “connected patient journey” across the health continuum look like?
Take the previous example of the cardiologist in the café. In the connected health care world, he can review the ECG reading from his mobile device, view imaging scans and access, the patient’s electronic medical record to help guide treatment decisions. He can coordinate remotely with intensivists at the hospital and begin treatment immediately. And this connectivity doesn’t end on the treatment table. The cardiologist can continue to stay connected with the patient long after discharge through the use of wearable or smart biometric tracking devices that can alert him to any potential complications, or assure the patient their recovery is on track.
As the patient makes lifestyle changes to address his heart condition— physical activity, diet, cholesterol, weight, respiratory function, and more—this information can be monitored to help the patient take a more proactive role in managing his health by making the right changes or identifying early warning signs.
“The stars have aligned and the industry is ready to make connected health care a reality”
That data is instantly available to his cardiologist and other care team members to support the patient’s treatment plan and provide coaching and support. Are they taking their medications on time? Are they getting weighed on the scale daily? Are they taking daily blood pressure readings?
Knowing the answers to these questions in real time allows the treatment team to take the appropriate actions to not only ensure the patient is doing everything they can do to improve their health, but to help also ensure there are no side effects or inefficiencies in the treatment plan.
While the industry is already light-years ahead of where it was years ago, we are only at the tip of the connected health spear. Soon, this connected patient experience will grow outside of what we would traditionally consider to be health services and extend to other products. For example, a pregnant woman’s home cooker might help manage the nutritional value of her meals to ensure she is getting the proper neo-natal nutrients.
Motion-sensing lamps might blink red to remind an elderly patient when they need to take a red pill and green when it’s time to take the green pill.
While the preventative medicine benefits are the easiest to discuss, the data collected by these smart devices will be invaluable during emergency situations. Whenever a patient does need to be readmitted to the hospital, the care team will have exponentially more information about the patients’ health including important items like past blood pressure readings, recent weight gain or loss and any risk indicators that are easy to miss today.
The Internet of Things has the potential to create a health care world where patients and care givers stay connected to each other and to vital health data throughout the patients’ care journey—not just in the hospital, but in every dimension of their lives. And that has the power to radically improve not just health care delivery but the quality of life.