Q&A: Blue Cross Blue Shield MA - how IoT is changing health insurance

    Healthcare clinicians are ready for IoT – are patients?

    The Internet of Things is just getting started in healthcare but are patients, clinicians and regulators ready for the change? Internet of Business investigates.

    The Internet of Things (IoT) may well be in ‘hype’ mode, according to analysts, but we are now starting to see practical use cases for these technologies come to the fore.

    For example, manufacturers are automating production lines, car makers are rolling out connected and autonomous cars, while retailers are using IoT sensors, beacon technology and Big Data to better serve customers and improve internal efficiency. Insurers aren’t far behind, leveraging telematics and smartphone data for usage-based insurance (UBI).

    Healthcare is perhaps slightly behind that curve, but there’s still plenty of promise. The IoT healthcare market is forecast to skyrocket in value by a third to 2020, and there has already been action on the ground in the form of pilot projects locally and internationally .

    NHS England, for example, is testing IoT through Innovation Beds, while even patients are getting involved; Tim Omer hacked his own diabetes monitor to display it on his Apple Watch. Elsewhere, we’ve seen the launch of the ingestible and dissolvable sensors.

    Speaking at the IoT Tech Expo conference in London last week, a panel of healthcare experts tackled the maturity of IoT in healthcare, discussing what must happen going forward.

    Dr Shafi Ahmed, consultant general, The Royal London and St Bartholomew’s Hospital, said that IoT has been coming through mobile usage in primary and secondary care, but suggests that technology integration with existing healthcare systems is vital for future adoption.

    David Doherty, co-founder of 3G Doctor, said that the IoT is not necessarily new in healthcare, explaining how healthcare professionals are well-versed in collecting and analysing patient data. However, while he’s encouraged by the opportunities presented by smartphones and IoT, he questions if most patients are even aware of the open data already available to them.

    It’s clear that the patient must drive this change – but experts suggested that this may not always be the case.

    Karina Marcus, director of the central management unit, Ambient Assisted Living Programme ICT at the European Union, believes that older persons could be left behind.

    “In 2008, we started to see more and more projects we fund including connected devices but when we now ask older people do they know what IoT is, they say ‘no’.”

    She said that these people must have access and trust in the system and that the whole service around the connected device must be safe and secure.

    Patient and patient self-management expert David Festenstein, himself a stroke victim, questions whether IoT could have helped him. “Even if it was unavoidable, what would it have been like for my recovery?”

    “I am really excited by the prospect of IoT and how health can build upon that.”

    Also read: NHS England to launch IoT innovation test beds

    IoT in secondary care

    Ahmed sees secondary care as a big opportunity for IoT and mobile, with remote monitoring an increasing possibility.

    “Imagine a world we don’t need to see the person for follow-up, it’s better for us and the patient,” said Ahmed, who is also speaking at the Internet of Healthcare.

    “Suddenly we might decide the whole outpatient appointment can be done remotely, becoming more cost effective.”

    Doherty said, however, that there is no ‘Uber experience’ in healthcare with clinicians apathetic towards technology vendors. IoT isn’t yet totally fit for purpose.

    “This should be done with clinicians needs, that’s where opportunity is. As patients, we all want [IoT] but we’ve got to stop saying there’s not enough money. We’ve got to empower patients with their own data.” IoT, he says, could ultimately lead to prevention units.

    Marcus agreed, stressing that data must be collected in “very intelligent way”, while Ahmed said that devices will have to be centralized and managed. Festenstein stresses too that data privacy is key.

    Doherty suggests that, ultimately, IoT movement must come from the patient in this new era of self-care .

    “We have to be the driver of a lot of these changes. We can be the motivator to make this all happen. It’s sad we have left patients to do it, but I believe it’s the best way to move forward.”

    Also read: IDC says IoT and Big Data will improve healthcare – if hackers can be stopped