At last week’s Internet of Healthcare conference, we caught up with experts to discuss if – and how – practitioners and hospitals are approaching the Internet of Things (IoT) age.
When it comes to the IoT, certain sectors are much more advanced than others in terms of understanding and adopting these technologies.
At our Internet of Healthcare conference in London, we were reminded that the healthcare sector is not the driving force behind IoT adoption, at least not in the UK.
A range of speakers from different backgrounds converged to attend the event. But, from citizen hackers to pathologists, general practitioners to clinicians, the message was loud and clear: widespread use of IoT technologies in healthcare remains a long way off.
IoT in healthcare: what’s the problem?
Some familiar problems facing healthcare professionals flared up over the course of the two days. In short, the need to do more with less.
“It just needs money behind it,” claimed one GP turned digital health strategist over a discussion about the NHS in England. Yet others argued that simply throwing money at the problem does not help you overcome the numerous cultural differences.
We also heard regularly that doctors and care workers simply do not understand IoT, and even those that do are overwhelmed by the sheer amount of data.
“The joy of technology is that we’re data rich,” Dr Muhammed Ali, a clinical director at Epsom Health and Care told the conference. “The misery is that we have no idea what to do with it.”
Doctor-turned-CEO, Ajay Bakshi, emphasized the need to put tech-savvy clinicians at the heart of any change. It’s a successful practice that he’s employed at Manipal Hospitals in India, we heard. He said that it’s all about putting ‘hospitals at the heart of the IoT healthcare ecosystem.’
Yet, employing different people is only part of the solution. You can’t simply replace your current staff with tech-savvy individuals. A much longer process of education and upskilling needs to take place.
Even then, there’s still a weak link in the chain. Almost everyone we spoke to explained the desperate need to empower patients, for them to control their condition and their data. And yet, despite this, some were unconvinced that this will ever be possible.
“The limitation is the patient, not the technology,” said ‘citizen health hacker’, Tim Omer. “What use is real-time data if I can’t access it real-time?”
Power to the people?
So, if we give patients more power through technology will that help?
One argument was that by giving patients access to their data, they will feel more in control of their own health.
“If you give the patient their data, the information governance problems go out of the window!” Dr Shahid Ali, GP and national clinical leader, informed the audience.
Despite these calls, speakers from DigitalHealth.London reminded us that, while 96 percent of 18-24 year olds in the UK have smartphones (71 percent of the general population), only two percent of healthcare interactions are happening on mobile devices.
A dose of reality
What became increasingly clear is that for those looking to change the status quo, the odds are stacked against them. There is a lack of agreement on the best way to encourage adoption of such nascent technology like IoT, and realistically hospitals and GPs have greater things to worry about.
Indeed, it seemed odd that the same event tackling the future of healthcare through IoT sensors, beacons and Artificial Intelligence, healthcare professionals also spoke ruefully about the downsides of fax machines and paper notes. The gap between the possibilities and the reality could not be larger.
There is light at the end of the tunnel, however. Speakers from hospitals across Europe stood out with shining examples of what can happen if you have the chance to start from scratch.
Professor Henny van Laarhoven outlined how the standardized, flexible architecture of the Orbis Medical Centre in Zuyderland, Netherlands, was reflected in the standardized, flexible ICT systems they implemented.
The hospital has 12 robots doing the logistics and supply work that 20 people would be required to do in any ordinary hospital.
Similarly, speakers from the Odense University Hospital in Denmark showcased how video-conferencing and online consultations can actually prevent patients from coming into the GP or hospital. If it sounds straightforward that’s because it is, and in its own way, it’s a technological means to empower the patient.
Overall, the number of IoT use-cases remain few and far between in this sector. We’re looking forward to next year’s conference to see how things have changed.
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