3 Ways The Internet Of Things Will Affect Healthcare
A diabetic feels faint and goes for a nap. Later she is woken when paramedics are adjusting her sugar levels to prevent her from slipping into a diabetic coma. They were able to respond so quickly because of signals emitted by an ingestible sensor monitoring her blood sugar levels. And now all is well. The day has been saved without a single phone call. Sound far fetched? Soon it won’t be. This is just one of the scenarios that could become commonplace as the internet of things (IoT) grows in popularity and reach.
The IoT refers to anything with a sensor that has the potential to communicate with anything else that has a sensor. The data stream that results is interpreted using analytics which can then initiate a response like opening a garage door when a car approaches. The idea of connected devices is not new, it has been a part of our lives at least since the first thermostat responded to temperature changes. But until now the connectivity used to be kept within a single institution. As the name suggests, the inter-net of things promises to span the web wider. Also, whereas device connection used to involve a human being who read the data and decided what to do next, the IoT makes it possible for analytics to replace human decision-making.
This Orwellian technology will have a number of game-changing effects on healthcare. We collected 3 of the most likely:
- Business models are going to be shaken up
Healthcare used to be the preserve of bloated multinational companies with powerful gate-keepers and steep barriers to entry. Today anyone with some venture capital and a twinkle in their eye can create a startup, even one providing healthcare services. As a result, the industry will need to become open to collaborating with smaller companies, many of which may be completely new to the industry, and its norms. Synergies that form between clinical informatics and secure cloud-based platforms will probably be the most successful.
- Much more automation is on the way
Just as bacteria love warm, moist areas, so too do programmers love repetitive occurrences as those are particularly good candidates for automation. Take the area of medication, for instance. We have all heard our doctors tell us to take a pill three times a day, and then forgotten to do so when life got busy. With home medication dispensers however you could get automatic reminders from the pill dispenser itself, which could also alert physicians when medication has not been taken. Another area ripe for automation is hospital visits. Some hospitals have already begun introducing “smart beds”. These ensure that appropriate pressure and support are applied to the patient without the physical intervention of a nurse. Medical personnel can also automatically stay informed about the number of beds that are currently occupied or that a patient is attempting to get up.
- Diagnoses could become more holistic (and invasive)
The IoT has given birth to an idea called “the digital phenotype.” That refers to all the factors that influence your health; things like environmental and behaviour, e.g. living in a polluted city or smoking. Data on these factors, such as activity on social media sites or shopping behavior, are meant to be added to the data gathered during the treatment process. The goal is that the IoT will provide data that can be used to give doctors a broader understanding of the patient and his or her life circumstances, and in so doing make a more insightful diagnosis possible. This broader set of data has the potential to improve the effectiveness of public health assessments and strengthen predictive analytics.
Although some of that sounds really promising, let’s be honest, it is also is a little scary. As more of our lives get converted into data kept on a cloud, that data becomes more vulnerable to manipulation and abuse. The good news is the medical community is generally hyper-cautious when adopting new approaches. The bad news is there is currently no regulation around the internet of things, which means regulators are probably going to deal with this innovation the way they always have; by waiting for an abuse to occur and then legislating a response. By then the damage will have been done, and it could be far greater than we can imagine.
Let’s hope this time around there will be an informed push to take advantage of the opportunities of the IoT while hedging its dangers.