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IoT For Healthcare

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We’re now going to explore healthcare, a critical sector that is making leaps and bounds when it comes to the implementation of IoT solutions.

In this step, you’ll learn:

  • How IoT can impact both the healthcare provider’s ability to deliver care and help patients take more control over their health
  • Ways to implement an IoT solution for this vertical
  • How healthcare providers are using IoT today to impact their work.

In a 2014 article, Forbes quotes McKinsey & Company who predicted that by 2020, healthcare spending would have surpassed 1 trillion USD in China alone.

It can be difficult to think of healthcare as an industry since it’s in the business of dealing with life and death. But the reality is that there is a lot of money involved in providing healthcare so finding ways to do more with less is a constant goal. IoT has the potential for impacting much more than the economics of healthcare; it has the potential to be a disrupter in this vertical by providing better optimisation of equipment and personnel, enables non-traditional options for self-care, and helps monitor and maintain essential equipment used in providing care.

Personalised Healthcare

Whilst there are many potential applications for IoT in the healthcare industry, applying solutions can be tricky as concerns about patient privacy, misdiagnoses, security breaches, and malfunctioning equipment can make patients and doctors hesitant about adopting the technology. When architecting an IoT solution for healthcare that involves direct patient interaction, special care has to be taken to account for these factors.

However, when considering these concerns, IoT has the power to provide better care in real-time and lower costs. In a 2015 The Internet of Things in health care report prepared by the consulting firm Deloitte, the authors write:

‘In striving to improve outcomes and reduce costs, healthcare providers have long struggled with several nagging problems; most notably, their interactions with their patients are sporadic, giving them little insight into the daily decisions and activities that have a huge impact on patient health. Providers could be much more effective in supporting their patients’ health if it was easy (or even automatic) for information and feedback to flow between patients, providers, and caregivers.’

Some of these scenarios involve critical care such as alerts being sent to caregivers for remote patients that are experiencing an issue with their health, or a device intended to address their health.

This image shows a scenario where a critical are alert, from remote patients is being sent to caregivers

Not all IoT healthcare applications need to focus on critical situations. As with other verticals, the primary value of IoT as it applies to healthcare is in the data generated by the devices and services in the ecosystem. Deloitte agrees:

‘Where data about consumers have been critical to the transformation in retail, in healthcare the key is patient-generated data (PGD), defined as ‘health-related data created, recorded, gathered, or inferred by or from patients or their designees to help address a health concern.’

Areas of Opportunity

Deloitte outlines three primary areas for growth and adoption of IoT technologies in healthcare. Some of these opportunities overlap with other verticals we’re looking at, but healthcare is unique in specific ways.

Short-term Care Planning

Providing patients with a plan for self-care once they leave a medical facility, as well as reminding patients of their plan and monitoring how well they’re following that plan, is one scenario the report mentions as an area ripe for IoT solutions. For example, a mobile or wearable app that reminds patients to take medication or follow a specific physical therapy plan can help healthcare providers understand challenges, prepare for follow-up visits, and create modifications to a plan that may be more effective for specific patients.

Chronic Disease Management and Home Care

IoT devices and services can help those in long-term care, chronic disease management, and in frail condition to give healthcare providers real-time information on their condition; for example, an elderly person that has fallen or a diabetic whose glucose levels have reached critical levels. The collection of data across hundreds of thousands of patients can help healthcare providers build models that will service new patients in the future. This points to the last item on Deloitte’s list.

Population-based Evidence Creation

The authors point out that much of the current use of data has been used for risk analysis and health underwriting. But big data, collected by IoT systems, can help healthcare providers better understand health trends across populations and be used to prevent disease rather than merely manage it. Here’s an example cited by the authors:

Current State Examples of IoT opportunities Benefits
Evidence-based care determination often comes from data collected through surveys and clinical studies not utilising internet-enabled devices Understanding the unique causes of disease, patient profiles that may be more responsive to certain treatments or patients who suffer more serious side effects Improved treatment guidelines to reflect variances in certain patient populations through the use of larger population sample sizes and mobile technology

IoT solutions will enable significant advances in healthcare over the next decade. While there are many challenges to overcome such as technical and social, this vertical is primed for disruption and innovation.

In the next step, we’ll take a look at IoT in retail, another vertical which is evolving very quickly.

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Microsoft Future Ready: Fundamentals of Internet of Things (IoT)

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