Why Internet of Things (IoT) makes sense for Healthcare

Internet of things dominated my world this week as I participated in Liveworx16. Liveworx is the signature event of Thingworx a PTC company. PTC Chairman and CEO Jim Heppelmann  has taken a big gamble by integrating the traditional industrial design strengths of PTC with a up and coming technology area like Internet of Things (IoT)

The event saw a curious mix of CAD/CAM experts who were trying to understand how IoT was going to help them mingling with IoT experts who had already implemented a few projects and were looking to consolidate on their early mover advantage. But one Industry that is looking at IoT very seriously is healthcare. Yes you heard me its healthcare, and may even leapfrog other industries when it comes to IoT adoption.

downloadBut then why should healthcare look at IoT?

Well that is a good question that is being asked by many hospitals and rightfully so. Hospitals have a duty towards their patients, community, physicians and staff and the last thing they want to do is to embark on a new technology for the sake of technology. But before we look at why IoT, we should probably try to understand the origin of IoT.

Some might argue that IoT is not new, maybe the patenting of the passive RFID in 1973 was the origin of IoT. By the 1980’s many manufacturing units were already connected. Some others like consumer goods were using a form of IoT. For example Coke was using a similar technology with its vending machines in 1980’s which was invented at the Carnegie Mellon University. 1980 was also the year CERN launched World Wide Web (WWW) and the internet was born. By 1990’s Wal-Mart had mandated all organizations that are displaying their goods to have advanced RFID chips. This had led to the famous spat between P & G and Wal-Mart. I am not sure who blinked first but for a while P & G was off the shelves at Wal-Mart.

By 2000’s we started connecting devices to the internet. Power grids and Energy companies started systems which were talking to each other. Soon cell phones were connected and then by 2008, we saw the inflection point on the number of connected devices. Today we have wearable devices that can send your physiological data to your physician that can help him or her track your health parameters like BP and sugar levels.

IoT in India is not new either. I know for example a hospital in Delhi-NCR region  had ambulances with  antennas on its top, ECG machines, and monitors along with physicians in the ambulance. This way despite the traffic jams in India, the critical records of the patients would arrive at the ER and the physicians and surgeons would make the necessary preparation for stabilizing the patient and save valuable time that otherwise they would have wasted in these tests. At that time Rajesh Batra who was head of technology, was able to make this work and get the physicians and management on board by demonstrating the value of IoT in an ambulatory set up.

“IoT has the potential to improve care” says Rajesh Batra , “But we need to be careful about security as it very easy for a breach which would be dangerous for a hospital”

He continues the same zeal in Kokilaben Hospital in Mumbai where he currently is the CIO. He is also looking at integrating IoT with emerging areas like Omni Channel with iBeacons to give a truly connected experience at the hospital.

As I have written many times in the past, we in India have this unique opportunity to create a new healthcare model that can help 1.3 billion people manage their health. I think an important component of that is population health.

Now a hypothetical population health program could work on the principle of a hospital enrolling a set of patients who need chronic care, let’s say for example diabetes into a program. The program entails these patients to check their sugar levels regularly and through IoT their sugar levels get updated into a program dash board that the physician can see. If the sugar levels are within the parameter then there is no incident. But if the sugar levels rise or fall outside of the normal range. Then the system alerts the physician. The physician would check if this is one off case or is there is a regular pattern. Based on this he or she can intervene and schedule a checkup and enter the same in the record.

download-1-250x179Now this is a simple example, but helps us to understand how a potential IoT solution could work in population health. It would not only help in tackling chronic diseases in India, but could serve as the only option in tier 2 and tier 3 cities where access to hospitals is not available.

In subsequent pieces I would like to explore more areas in healthcare where IoT could have implications. I definitely see some Medical Devices companies taking the lead in this space. Also concerns around security need to be addressed, but would love to hear your views as well on this topic.

Dr. Vikram Venkateswaran

Management Thinker, Marketer, Healthcare Professional Communicator and Ideation exponent

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Arch

    Good examples. To a lot of lay people the benefits of IoT need to be more specifically quantified in terms of how much will it cost them if a hospital or service adopts this technology. A case in point is dental practices increasingly invest in high tech equipment such as X ray machines etc which may benefit the Doctor in assisting diagnosis, but the patient foots a rather expensive bill without the ability to transfer his dental record to another dentist. Is this additional cost worth it? Demonstrating the value add for he customer will help in increased adoption of IoT in the future.

    1. admin

      Great point Archana. I think the key is to demonstrate the benefit and not to look at technology for technology’s sake. In India that would be the key to success to any technology adoption a good example is the hyper adoption of online portals for airline tickets, most travelers found it to be transparent and a way to get better tickets at good prices. Hospitals may need to demonstrate a similar value proposition.

  2. Sumeet Kad

    Beyond doubt, IoT an totally transform the way healthcare is delivered today. IoT an help obtain huge volumes of data which when analyzed can provide intelligent insights resulting in enhancing the health outcomes. IoT can lead to: better patient care, greater operational efficiency, enhanced asset monitoring and tracking. This is facing some hurdles too. Data security is on the top of that list. Also, do we have the skills to manage and derive insights out of the ocean of data coming in?

    1. admin

      I agree Dr Sumeet. Security seems to the key challenge and I read somewhere that according to Symantec, most organizations only spend 6 % of their budget on security. With IoT i think the amount should be much higher. The skills required is a great insight, I think that is an area that most organizations have to proactively work on developing. We would need to retrain existing teams and then develop new modules to train fresh hires. Great insight on this one.

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