The essential premise of the Internet of Things — that a device can pick up vital information and relay that for processing through a Wi-Fi connection — is systematically shaving off inefficiencies in healthcare. This is especially welcome news in the United States where healthcare spending rose to a crushing $3.6 trillion in 2018, which amounts to nearly 18% of the overall economy.
IoT in healthcare roughly falls into two buckets: Data from patients and data from institutional assets. Here’s where judicious implementation of an IoT strategy helps:
Effective patient monitoring
Consumers are already familiar with the Apple Watch or FitBit to monitor physical activity, heart rate, sleep patterns and more. Physicians can rely on condition-specific monitors to deliver more relevant data. Monitoring of glucose levels from diabetics through an IoT-enabled wearable can help track insulin needs and gain a better handle on preventing complications. Such monitoring also empowers patients — they can read levels through a related mobile app — and gives them greater ability to participate in their healthcare strategy.
Decreases post-op costs
IoT-enabled wearables/sensors can monitor patient health after they have returned home from major surgeries and automatically alert the hospital if certain vitals look worrisome. Wearable and implantable stickers monitor heart rate. Smart bandages can keep an eye on wounds and watch for infection. Such remote monitoring of fairly routine vitals eliminates the need for the patient to be tethered to the hospital for extended periods after surgery. Remote IoT-enabled monitoring also enables tele-health where physicians can remotely work with patients who report problems. Pre-screening like this has the potential to decrease the need for readmission.
Tracking medical assets
IoT-enabled sensors on medical devices — and even staff — can help track assets more efficiently. Staff can bring X-ray machines and traveling IV units into service as needed, instead of wasting time tracking them down. Such data also helps hospitals forecast device utilization so they can better plan for need. Hospitals can also restrict access to specific drugs by allowing remote IoT-based monitoring of these medicines. Room sensors can read ID badges and only allow approved personnel into sensitive areas.
IoT can spit out data not just about patient health — but also that of machines. If a refrigerator holding critical medicines is about to break down, a sensor connected to the unit can alert maintenance who can proactively attend to the machine before it goes out of order. Healthcare organizations must keep equipment running smoothly and IoT enables them to do so.
Reduce ER wait times
By IoT-enabled tracking of assets such as hospital beds and aligning them with patient needs healthcare organizations can dramatically decrease wait times in the emergency room. Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City has used this strategy to cut wait times for half of its 59,000 annual ER patients.
While IoT is a powerful tool in healthcare, it must also play by the same rules that govern other devices and systems. IoT-enabled healthcare devices go through elaborate certification processes and conform to country-specific patient privacy laws. Since IoT in healthcare will often involve sharing and relaying of sensitive patient health information (PHI), organizations need to encrypt data and remove all identifiers before they can work with them at scale.
Skyrocketing healthcare costs demand efficiencies at scale. IoT and patient or asset data can deliver such prescriptive price reductions while still maintaining high care standards.
How will decisions made by healthcare organizations now impact the future?
Digital healthcare care is a “new normal.” What’s needed to keep it going? According to an HBR roundtable, stronger support infrastructure and increased investment in digital health.
With the world in the early stages of COVID-19 vaccine deployment, it’s important to look even further ahead — specifically, how we can keep the momentum going on the digital transformation of healthcare.
A recent roundtable discussion of CIOs from leading health systems, hosted by Harvard Business Review, concluded there are three main areas of focus for this new digital health frontier: Virtual care, setting, and the patient experience.
“Care providers must understand the ramifications for their digital health function and agenda — and how information technology can address the challenges and opportunities of their ‘new normal,’” wrote a team of experts for HBR, including: John Glaser (executive in residence, Harvard Medical School), J. Marc Overhage, MD (Chief Medical Information Officer, Anthem, Inc.), Janet Guptill (CEO, Scottsdale Institute), Chuck Appleby (Director of Publications & Communications, Scottsdale Institute), and Donald Trigg (President, Cerner).
The first focus — virtual care — comes into play simply because of the numbers, and how quickly solutions had to be implemented. The panel of experts cites one McKinsey study that shows physicians and healthcare professionals are seeing 50 to 175 times more patients by telehealth. As a result, they explain, “health systems must construct a sturdy, permanent bridge that includes organizational, financial, and clinical structures and processes.”
The second focus is on setting, more specifically on patient care being delivered in the most appropriate setting. One example they give is the increasing discussion around chronic care management from the patient’s home, via telehealth or virtual doctor visits.
The final focus relates to patient experience, and how to make digital health align with the quality and efficiency they’ve come to know from other services like Amazon or Uber. According to the roundtable, it comes down to ease-of-use.
“To meet these expectations, health systems will need to double down on their ‘digital front door’ efforts,” they explain, “enabling patients to handle routine interactions such as scheduling an appointment, paying a bill, finding a doctor, renewing a medication, finding answers to health questions, and navigating the health system itself.”
The opportunity is there to create an even better ‘new normal’ than previous healthcare systems, the roundtable concluded.
“Covid-19 has forced health care leaders and clinicians to move faster, work smarter, and take a more focused approach to decision-making than ever before.”
Want to read the whole analysis? Head to HBR.
“Digitization is not a panacea for everything”
Biocon founder Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw on the COVID-19 response, and why Asian companies need to understand, not just embrace digital innovation.
As founder and chair of global biopharmaceuticals company Biocon, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw is on a mission to make healthcare affordable to all.
Under her leadership, Biocon’s mission is to “reduce disparities in access to safe, high-quality medicines, as well as address the gaps in scientific research to find solutions to impact a billion lives.”
— Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw (@kiranshaw) December 9, 2020
Recently, Mazumdar-Shaw sat down for a video conference interview with McKinsey’s Sathya Prathipati and Joydeep Sengupta, senior partners out of the company’s Mumbai and Singapore offices (respectively).
Here are some key quotes from their interview, where they discussed digital transformation in the COVID-19 response, and digitization:
The difference between Western and Asian organizations:
“While Western companies focus on value capture, Asian companies have tended to be really focused on scale, size, and market share… We have not really focused on innovation to capture value, whereas the Western model is to capture a big piece of the value share with innovation and IP [intellectual property] and to outsource whatever you need in terms of vertical integration.”
How digital transformation accelerated because of COVID-19:
“COVID-19 is a true inflection point. In India, e-pharmacies are becoming a reality, and we see a lot of opportunities to use technology in daily life. We need to leverage and build on that. There was so much resistance to e-pharmacies, but this is a new opportunity. Biocon… started digitizing everything six or seven months before COVID and were able to finish before the pandemic. It’s given us a lot of benefits and showed the huge transformative potential of digital technologies.”
Approaches to digitization:
“Digitization is not a panacea for everything… Yes, the digital world has the potential to accelerate transformation, but you need to understand exactly what digital can do to get the benefits. In our business, data analytics can help us make decisions with lower risks. We just hired a CIO whose whole mandate is to look at our digital infrastructure and see how we can future-proof ourselves. We are thinking about this very carefully, not just a cut-and-paste. That’s why I would rather bring in people from the digital world—from the tech industry—instead of the pharmaceutical industry. We want them to transform old mindsets.”
Read the full interview transcript here.
After this year, what will healthcare look like in 2021 (and beyond)?
Experts share their opinions on what digital health will look like after a transformation-heavy 2020.
It’s flat-out impossible to discuss healthcare right now without addressing its digitization, telehealth, and the many ways the sector has leveraged technology to improve everything from systems and workflow to patient outcomes — all in the face of COVID-19.
“There’s no going back on telehealth,” writes Ashwini M. Zenooz, MD — Chief Medical Officer and General Manager for Healthcare and Life Sciences at Salesforce — in Harvard Business Review.
Dr. Zenooz does provide a warning, however. She explains that we have to make sure “providers are not only on-board with digital transformation but also see their experience of care enhanced in the process.” She outlines three considerations and requirements:
- Telehealth adoption “will be more likely to succeed if it is “pulled” into organizations and workflows by providers rather than “pushed” on them by leadership.”
- Human-centered design is key. Tools like AI, machine learning, and voice technologies will be doing the heavy lifting with respect to the “documentation burden.”
- “Care coordination, enabled by seamless data sharing, is therefore as important to the provider experience as it is to care quality and outcomes.”
What innovators are saying
And the momentum is there for continued transformation into next year, according to Becker’s Hospital Review. The publication interviewed nine healthcare innovation leaders to get their 2021 predictions.
What are they saying?
Both Jeff Semenchuk (chief innovation officer for Blue Shield of California) and Muthu Krishnan, PhD (chief digital transformation officer of IKS Health) said that digital health solutions will help doctors and patients manage disease-specific care for things like chronic conditions or pregnancy.
Mohan Nair (senior VP and chief innovation officer of Cambia Health Solutions) raises one critical area of care that we’ve mentioned before: mental health.
“The COVID-19 pandemic and mental health crisis will collide and demand attention. This will enable and force us to face our isolation but recognize our interconnected humanity, our compassion, and our empathy for others. Digital technologies, like telehealth, digital therapeutics and artificial intelligence/machine learning, are all candidates to catalyze a new world with a common cause.”
Nicole Cable, chief experience officer of InnovaCare Health predicts that both millennials and seniors will keep embracing telehealth. Cable emphasizes, however, that tech companies will need to create tools that can help address the care of chronic and complex conditions of aging populations.
To read more expert predictions, visit Becker’s Hospital Review.
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