The IoT in Healthcare

4th December 2015 by Jorge Ferreira

The Internet of Things (IoT) is the next big thing.

It is not only the future, but also the present – it is happening now! In fact, we can see already some of everyday physical objects connected to each other and the cloud, able to communicate, collect data and exchange it without human intervention. What we once saw in Sci-Fi movies, has gradually become a reality. It is being applied across all verticals, which empowers its overall potential – as in a social network, its value proposition is directly correlated with the increasing number of connections. Touch pad image One of the most promising IoT fields is healthcare. On the one side, in an aging population, the need for better quality care, access to care and cost reduction has risen in both public and private sectors. On the other side, consumer trends like the interest in wellness self-management has booming, as infrastructures, tools and applications get more reliable and consistent. In this sense, new players are likely to feel attracted to participate in a coming mass market. A complex ecosystem is emerging, formed of horizontal IT components as well as vertical and industry-specific knowledge and IT elements. Therefore, a diversified and expanding number of participants are foreseen to support healthcare development. From mobile operators and device vendors, to application developers, regulators and content creators are predicted to contribute for this revolution. By cooperating with each other and with healthcare specific institutions like hospitals, universities and pharmaceuticals, IoT stakeholders will move our civilization to a higher level of advancement. Concepts like frenemies and coopetition are likely to become two important characteristics of the IoT market and the main drivers for innovation to reach a higher speed pace.  

The pillars for IoT to thrive are a reality today.

Connectivity has exponentially grown in the past years, including developing countries. Systems and devices are progressively more intelligent, running high level operating systems which execute cloud-based applications. Big data analytics and social business have also exponentially flourished, thus capitalizing the true business value of IoT. IoT has been leveraged already in hospital facilities, where remote monitoring has proven its high value - continuous and real-time readings of vitals such as blood pressure, heart rate, or sugar levels are a few basic examples. Its importance is related to the fact that patients make most of their health care decisions outside of hospitals, and most of those decisions are lifestyle choices. Cumulatively, they have a strong impact on individuals’ health, so employers, insurers, and healthcare providers have great interest in monitoring patients’ behaviour. From a business perspective, if health organizations are able to customize patients’ care through technology, they will leverage their competitiveness and attract more customers. From a consumer’s perspective, awareness of personal fitness has become increasingly popular. Users are empowered to have more control over their lives and in sports, there is a trend of tracking steps taken, calories burned, hours slept and monitoring results on their mobile devices as well as sharing them on social networks. As wearables gain momentum, tech manufacturers and app developers will continuously invest in an ever more appealing market. Despite some skepticism around wearables adoption, I do believe the leap to massification depends on a couple of factors: price erosion and killer apps. In spite of the great opportunities out there, a few challenges must be addressed too. Firstly, security has always been and will be the main concern in an ever more connected and data-driven world. Secondly, an ecosystem formed of such a diversified set of organizations and consumers, all creating and using different types of sensitive data, creates considerable concerns. Complexities arise when non-health organizations collaborate with health organizations, by processing sensitive health information. Therefore, cooperation between all different IoT stakeholders is imperative to give an effective answer to this and forthcoming challenges.