There has been plenty of discussion about how the Internet of Things (IoT) will change healthcare. Most of it, though, has either been in the realms of fantasy, or based on wearables and their potential to improve health, rather than healthcare. The conversation has not really been helpful in terms of managing today's big and challenging issues of healthcare, like how to manage chronic diseases, and prevent costs from rising exponentially.
This trend is changing now. We are seeing ‘testbeds’ emerge that are targeting a key benefit of IoT: self-service. In the UK for example, the projects will focus on diabetes and dementia, two of the ‘ticking time bombs’ of healthcare, meaning that they could be a very big deal indeed for healthcare around the world.
Recognizing the potential for self-care
The number of people with diabetes is rising. More than 1 in 20 people are estimated to have diabetes, many undiagnosed. Managing diabetes effectively requires lifestyle changes, as well as therapy, and poor management has potential for huge costs, because it can result in loss of sight or of limbs. This means that patient education and self-management are important elements of diabetes care.
Diabetes Digital Coach, run by the West of England Academic Health Science Network, in partnership with Diabetes UK will allow providers and patients to experiment with different diabetes self-management products already on the market. The idea is to find suitable products that will enable people with diabetes to self-care in their own way.
The project is wide-ranging. The products involved include wearables and supporting software, and monitoring devices and sensors, together with kit to connect them. The idea is to help people with diabetes find the products that work for them, and enable them to self-care effectively, with more timely and effective contributions from healthcare professionals and other people in their lives, including family and friends. The benefits will be seen at patient level, as self-care improves, and in better planning and provision of healthcare to individual patients. However, the project will also provide important insights into diabetes at a population level, so that they can change behavior.
The challenges of self-care
Self-care for dementia patients, by the very nature of the condition, is a completely different ball game. The second test-bed project is Technology Integrated Health Management (TIHM), run by Surrey and Borders NHS Foundation Trust with several local universities and the Alzheimer’s Society, plus local commissioning groups. The group estimates that over 16,000 people in Surrey alone probably have dementia, although only around 6,000 of them have a diagnosis.
The project will provide technology to help people with dementia live at home for longer. It includes wearables, sensors, and monitors, which together will support patients to take control of their own health. At the same time, because of the nature of the condition, local health and social care staff will be provided with access to insights and, potentially, alerts about problems emerging from the data. The ‘double whammy’ of the project will therefore be improved self-care coupled with better provision of more responsive care from health services.
The project will help reduce the long-term care in nursing homes, that is now expensive, and not reflecting the real needs. It will also reduce demand on emergency services, by alerting staff to problems sooner, and preventing the need for unplanned hospital admissions.
Beyond the ‘holy grail’
Both these projects are designed with a dual purpose:
- To save costs.
- To improve quality of life.
Data from the patients’ sensors are analyzed and presented to give views that makes immediate sense, regardless of whether you are the patient, family member or member of the clinical team.
It is early days to be getting excited. The test beds have just been announced, and have a lot of work yet to do. But one early finding is that in addition to self-care, doctors have been able to intervene even when the patient has been shy about ‘bothering the doctor’ with what may have seemed like a small anomaly. Clinicians will recognize the huge impact of this apparently simple consequence of transparency. Analysis and trends need the additional context that only an experienced practitioner can bring to bear.
Are you involved in an IoT-enabled health digitization program? I’d be interested in more concrete examples as these test-beds as we use technology to improve outcomes for patients.
If you want to explore the many business opportunities IoT presents, read the e-book Internet of Things: Visualise the Impact.