Devices and diseases: How the IoT is transforming medtech
The importance of data in delivering efficient, effective health care has long been obvious—and has never been greater. The increased focus on value-based care is shifting financial incentives to a model in which providers are compensated based on how their patients fare, rather than by the number of tests, visits, or procedures performed. This means that providers, patients, and everyone in between are more eager than ever to measure patient outcomes in order to determine what works and who gets paid.
Prevention and wellness
How better to prevent illness than to treat it? To come as close as possible to that goal, preventive and wellness care focuses on two types of health consumers: generally healthy individuals, and individuals at risk for specific chronic diseases (e.g., patients with pre-diabetes). Medical technology in these areas is largely designed around portable and at-home devices. Thus far, most IoT-enabled devices have been wearables such as activity monitors and other measurement devices such as digital scales and digital thermometers, with an element of data-based service such as an app to track results. These devices have seen tremendous growth in recent months: Wearable shipments almost tripled between the first quarter of 2014 and a year later.
More than a third of Americans suffer from chronic conditions, often with no cure in sight, which can get hugely expensive. Once a patient falls prey to a chronic disease, the need for continuous health monitoring becomes more important than in prevention and wellness. A number of device makers and other players are aiming to tackle this challenge through integrating the relevant streams of data needed to accurately monitor the health of a patient with a given condition.
Admitting a patient for acute-care treatment unleashes an avalanche of new data (e.g., current vital signs) and calls upon a mountain of pre-existing data (e.g., a patient’s medical history) with a need for near-instant analysis (e.g., reviewing the current research on treatment options). A provider often must quickly access and distill all of these data to arrive at a diagnosis and recommend a course of treatment.
Guidelines and penalties for the same patient being readmitted to a hospital within 30 or 90 days after treatment emphasize both reducing readmissions to acute settings and providing safe, effective post-acute care in lower-intensity, lower-cost settings. As a result, applications that connect patients with their providers and caregivers hold particular promise. For example, following a knee surgery, simple sensors placed in shoe insoles could generate data measuring the pressure supported by each foot during walking; pairing those sensors with accelerometers measuring the cadence of the patient’s stride would yield sufficient information to identify imbalances or limping, help assess changes in the patients’ activity levels, and grade the recovery program’s effectiveness.
Medical technology is important to all of us; we rely on the fact that it will be safe, reliable, and effective if and when we need it. IoT technology will certainly improve that performance, and with proper planning, companies can create strong positions providing that safety, security, and efficacy for years to come.