November 11, 2014


IoT possibilities in Healthcare

Recently, I read an article from Gartner on the Top IT Predictions1. While there are many things that are disruptive and worth mentioning, what got my attention was a prediction on Internet of Things (IoT) and how it will bridge the gap between humans and computers.  Gartner predicts that by 2020, consumer data collected from wearable devices will drive 5% of sales from the Global 10001.

While this can provide significant business opportunities, it imposes tremendous challenges because of security and privacy threats. It is well evident by another Gartner prediction in the same report, which states that by 2020, enterprises and governments will fail to protect 75% of sensitive data and will declassify and grant broad/public access to it1.

In my blog today I will bring my focus to the possibilities that IoT offers and leave the privacy discussion for another day. I am personally very excited about the opportunities that IoT can unfold for the life sciences and healthcare industry. The blog discusses IoT in context to connected healthcare, keeping the patient at center stage.

A Connected Healthcare Ecosystem

During the early years of my career, my father developed a heart ailment. He was in the Indian Air Force, posted in a small town called Jorhat, and was undergoing treatment at the local IAF hospital. I planned to bring him to Delhi so that I could get a second opinion. I still remember the pain of collecting all the reports and repeating the entire history every time I met a new Doctor. That was year 2001. While technology has evolved and science has seen new breakthroughs, the experience for an end consumer of healthcare is still rudimentary. 

That was in India, I currently live in NJ, USA and I see similar challenges when someone wants to avail healthcare services. It seems that the vast network of primary physicians, specialists, hospitals, and insurance providers are all disconnected, making the end consumer the final point of failure.

Can IoT solve this problem?

Apple made a big announcement recently on the ios 8 Health App. As a curious user, I downloaded the ios 8 version to have a first peak (on a lighter note, I had to transfer/delete a lot of information to create the required 5.8 GB space). What fascinated me the most is the toolset it has provided in the hands of developers to create health apps leveraging Apple’s ios platform.

Imagine a world tomorrow – a health app on your smart device that can capture your vital information, along with your health history. On user consent, the information from the app can be transmitted to a provider (physicians, hospital or lab) prior to the patient’s visit to the provider. On concluding the visit, the provider prognosis can be fed back to the patient’s smart device. And if the patient is admitted to the hospital, the bed can become a device(vital stats, drip information and bed alignment, as examples) which can relay the information to the doctor to take action  or to the medical devices company that makes the bed (in blinded form) helping them to improve their product experience. While there are multiple data exchanges that can happen between different parties, the interesting aspect is device-to-device data exchange which can enable a smart decision making process.

The picture below provides an example of how patient experience can be enhanced by IoT data exchanges.

  • The flows marked with 1 is a patient interaction with a physician. An app on the patient’s iPhone can transmit all patient information and vital stats before the doctor sees the patient. Post the visit, information such as X-Ray request/ prescription can flow back to the patient’s iPhone app.
  • The flows marked with 2 are patient interactions with the lab.
  • If the patient is admitted in the hospital, the hospital PACS system or the bed that the patient is in can become entities to transfer meaningful data to the relevant parties, which help in taking real-time action. This is shown by flows marked as 3

In a connected healthcare ecosystem, the possiblities of IoT-lead solutions are immense, and it opens new avenues for creating customer oriented solutions. Today, as part of HCL’s Life Sciences and Healthcare (LSH) digital lab, we are working on solutions that connect hospital PACS systems (which store patient data – MRI and CT scans) to medical devices companies to help them analyze data to devise treatment strategies. We are also using technolgoies such as Axeda to read real time medical device data and create analytics feeds for surgeons to make real-time decisions during surgical procedures.

While opportunities are substantial, the challenges are equally intense. IoT throws up real threats in areas  such as privacy and secuirty. As I stated earlier, I’ll take this discussion up another day. 


1Gartner Top Predictions 2014: Plan for a Disruptive, but Constructive Future

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