The Internet of Things (IoT) is already the biggest disruptor in the healthcare sector, according to Dr Ajay Bakshi, speaking at the Internet of Healthcare conference in London today.
Why? Because it touches every part of the healthcare spectrum, from when we are born to when we die, and everything in between.
The problem, according to the CEO of Manipal Hospitals in India, is that while patients expect technology and customer service to change for the better as they get older, it hasn’t moved quickly enough.
“The way we practice medicine has not changed for 100 years, despite the fact that we are living longer than ever and the way we die has changed,” he said.
“Death rates have declined, infectious diseases have virtually disappeared, there has been an increase in heart disease and cancer, and new diseases like diabetes have become more prevalent.”
Yet the healthcare model of a sick patient going to a doctor, and if they’re really sick then being passed onto the hospital, has not changed.
So can the healthcare industry wait for someone else, potentially from the tech sector, to disrupt it or should it make the change itself? And how will IoT adoption start? Bakshi believes it will come in three phases.
The three stages of adoption
“We will begin with monitoring patients via connected sensors,” he announced. These sensors will collect relevant data in real-life scenarios. Next, there will be an intervention phase where robotic helpers will assist doctors.
“I recently visited a hospital in Norway where robot assistants carry carts with food” he added, suggesting that some of the jobs in healthcare may be automated with the evolution of IoT technology.
The third stage is that artificial intelligence and cognitive computing — which is beginning to play a big role in healthcare — will soon see a convergence to provide fully automated medical interventions for selected conditions.
“This will allow us to summarize a diagnosis without the bias or ego of a human doctor,” said Bakshi, before admitted that it remains to be seen whether patients feel comfortable with this scenario.
Internet of Things is a business problem
Drawing particular attention to the monitoring stage of IoT deployment in healthcare, Bakshi told the audience that Internet of Things healthcare solutions, like sensors, will need three enablers to become successful.
“You need tech innovation, which there is plenty of. There is a whole ecosystem of IoT companies providing healthcare technology devices. So the technology aspect is well covered. But there are key business problems that must be solved at the same time.”
From a business perspective he says that we need to ask ‘Which patients should we apply Internet of Things technology for?’ He adds that clinicians also need to question how the technology will be applied, and who will decide on this.
Bakshi informs us that most of this work is normally done by a large healthcare company, such as Pfizer. They tell doctors what products will be used for. But in this scenario tech companies will be deciding what happens with the products they make, and they don’t have the wherewithal of dealing with doctors yet.
“Simply telling patients they can manage their health better won’t work – they don’t believe it and don’t trust it.”
Hospitals at the heart of the IoT
For Bakshi, hospitals need to be at the heart of the IoT for healthcare ecosystem. At Manipal Hospitals in India they put tech-savvy clinicians at the heart of the change.
The hospital developed an innovative business system for remote health monitoring, whereby patients are given a smartphone upon arrival. The phone is set-up to monitor some key vitals, such as body mass index and blood oxygen levels. Any data generated should then be transferred via the cloud to a shared application, which can be seen by patient and doctor. Conveniently, this allows the doctor to monitor his patients on the move.
It’s a straightforward example of how connected devices can make life easier for patient and care worker alike. The theme from this conference is: it’s a two-way street when it comes to patient-doctor relations.
Manipal Hospitals doesn’t appear to have stopped with IoT. Inspired by Apple’s Genius Bars, Manipal is deploying a system to let patients visit desks or booths for information, as part of a drop in service. An insight into what the hospital of the future might look like.
Wrapping up his presentation, Bakshi closed with: “Health expenditure has a correlation with life-expectancy; Internet of Things technology should bring longer life spans. By the time we’re 75 we will all be kitted out with these devices…there won’t be enough young people in the world to look after us.”