IoT poised to impact quality, capabilities of healthcare

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Everything about the modern doctor’s office feels primitive. It’s one of the few businesses that requires I use my telephone for scheduling — unless it’s about lab results. For that, they prefer fax. Even the doctor’s tools, such as the blood pressure cuff, scale and stethoscope, are largely the same as the equipment used in my childhood.

I get that the industry needs to be cautious regarding change and that legal requirements further complicate matters, but changes are overdue. Because medical professionals are unlikely to adopt unproven tech, the evolution will most likely come from existing tech being used in other applications.

Let’s take a look at how things might change in healthcare technology:

Video technologies in healthcare

The cost of video has significantly dropped, and the availability of video equipment (webcams and mobile phones) has significantly increased. Telemedicine is in, and doctors are now seeing patients for consults and treatments. Doctors are also using telemedicine technologies for expert consults with other doctors.

Telemedicine will soon expand from offices and homes to the field. Ambulances and paramedics will use two-way video for emergencies. Some facilities now are geared specifically for telemedicine, such as Mercy’s Virtual Care Center, which serves and monitors remote patients.

Temasys offers a teleconference technology that provides secure conversation among a pharmacist, patient and caregiver. In addition to encrypted live video and voice chat, Temasys records the conversations for retrieval via its patient portal.

Drones

Drones are already being equipped to deliver packages, and they offer significant benefits for rural environments. California-based Zipline has been drone-delivering blood for transfusions in Rwanda and is expanding into Tanzania. New drones are being developed to transport blood and medicines even across deserts, and a drone-ambulance is in the works.

Telemedicine and drones will converge to create a solution that provides real-time information during rapidly changing events or situations.

Eran Westman, CEO of Vidyo, said the technology “is already being used today by a national fire brigade. We are also working closely with police, EMTs, emergency responders and internal communications agencies to help them enhance their current videoconferencing capabilities with live images from drones.”

Mobile wearables

The boom in consumer fitness wearables is already bleeding over into the medical industry. I’ve shared my logs with my doctor, and there’s really no reason to limit the collection of medical information to in-office visits. The medical industry is moving in with personal, at-home and wearable devices that adhere to stricter security and privacy policies. Some of these newer devices transmit data continuously.

Market Research.com forecasts that Internet of Things (IoT) devices and wearables in healthcare could hit $117 billion by 2020. Another approach is to create peripherals that extend the capabilities of smartphones. Testing blood sugar and urine at home has never been easier. There are even smartphone accessories for an at-home echocardiogram.

Artificial intelligence

Do you remember Doctor on Star Trek Voyager? He, or it, was an Emergency Medical Hologram (EMH) that was installed in the ship’s sickbay. Upon activation, he would say, “Please state the nature of the medical emergency.” Well, that’s still in the future, but we are getting closer. Today we have a host of AI-powered, virtual doctors such as Ada.

This is very complex stuff, as AI has not been mastered yet. For example, IBM’s efforts to use Watson to improve cancer treatments have not been as revolutionary as many expected.

However, AI is proving to be helpful in some unexpected ways. GE Healthcare and Johns Hopkins Hospital are using predictive analytics to reduce bottlenecks and improve patient flow.

AI will also be increasingly used in all of these other categories, especially robots.

Robots

Robots are practically de rigeur in complex surgical procedures, and they will inevitably play a major role in our healthcare, including exams and therapy. The market is already there for senior care. Many Japanese firms are developing Carebots that assist the elderly in a variety of home-based services, such as monitoring medicine consumption and mobility. The Robobear bot can assist seniors in transferring from a bed to a wheelchair.

With significant advances in robot interactions, they can provide people company and even teach exercise classes.

I think about all of the time I sit in front of a computer monitor, and I get excited about a future where technology will be used to improve my health. IoT has the potential to personalize our treatment and transition healthcare into a proactive industry. Someday — though not tomorrow — the doctor will be the one calling to make an appointment regarding real-time results.

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Dave Michels