by Eric Openshaw, vice chairman and U.S. Technology, Media & Telecommunications leader, Deloitte LLP
A shopper walks through a suburban mall, returning to his car after visiting several stores. Nearing the drug store just before the exit, a text alert pops up on his phone. It’s the pharmacy calling. His prescription is expiring; shouldn’t he stop in and refill it before heading home?
With a quick text message, a forgotten task is completed. At the same time, the pharmacy dispatches a companion message to the doctor’s office, negating the need for physician follow-up with the patient. Everyone with an interest in the patient’s well-being and in maintaining his meds – doctor, pharmacist, patient -- is now up to date and on the same page.
It’s as though the pharmacy literally reached through the door with an important reminder about something vital to personal health care that was being neglected.
That’s just one sign of things likely to come in health care through the Internet of Things (IoT). Using information stored in the cloud and made accessible to patients and providers alike through a massive network of machine and device connections, IoT has the potential to transform the health care industry.
The ways that can happen are many, but here are a few prospects:
- Patients can capture, analyze, and share personal health data through wearable technology.
- Health and wellness providers can offer more personalized treatments based on the available data.
- Individual health care consumers can connect with a diverse ecosystem of wellness providers, potentially leading to greater value and insight.
- The role of the traditional health care provider could change dramatically.
A comprehensive, intelligent monitoring system could enable a full range of health care services and treatments – wellness hubs and next-generation smart health dashboards among them.
It’s a sign of the direction various stakeholders in the health care industry are heading as providers, insurers, and patients collaborate on and consolidate issues of quality and affordability.
Projections on the overall growth of IoT place the level of interconnection in the stratosphere. According to one Gartner study, 26 billion devices could be communicating with one another by 2020, with an estimated global economic value-add of $1.9 trillion.
There is wide interest among business executives in making investments in IoT. In one recent survey, 75 percent of executives (across all sectors, not just health care) said their companies are considering or are already moving ahead with IoT. Proponents view it as an exciting new strategic course and a worthwhile financial investment.
Health care offers unique opportunities for comprehensive IoT implementation. Health care treatments, cost, and availability affect all of us striving for longer, healthier lives. IoT is an enabler to achieve improved care for patients and providers. It could drive better asset utilization, new revenues, and reduced costs. In addition, it has the potential to change how health care is delivered.
Future advantages can be projected across all aspects of health care. For providers, you can start with the local hospital. The use of intelligent equipment powered by new medical sensors that allow real-time monitoring of a patient’s vital signs – regardless of whether that patient is down the street or located on the other side of the country – will be an extraordinary benefit.
For the patient, think of that visit to the mall, the ‘conversation’ between pharmacy computer and the consumer’s smart phone. Or the rise of telehealth linking provider and patient remotely, an element of medical care we’re seeing with greater frequency. That surface has barely been scratched.
A patient at home with access to a smart phone or computer and concerned about a medical episode can send health information to hospital nurses through a continually active wireless network. It’s an early-warning system that can tell a nurse or doctor whether the patient is suffering an attack or about to go into duress, and to enable a rapid and perhaps life-saving response.
The potential benefits of IoT in health care are myriad, but there are still concerns and issues facing stakeholders that need to be addressed and resolved.
Developing standards, building interoperability
How to achieve open standards and interoperability, and overcoming proprietary restrictions, are two critical issues that need to be addressed.
There are no simple roadmaps to navigate proprietary systems and technology. The question of how to blend and connect all industries is, to me, the most challenging and interesting. Influential groups such as the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) – an association in which Deloitte is a member - is composed of more than 70 of the most provocative and engaging companies involved in IoT, and is examining how to break down siloes, integrate systems, and find ways to interconnect proprietary networks.
The IIC, however, isn’t necessarily fixed on establishing hard and fast standards – indeed it is not a standards organization. It is more involved in how they are shaped, their interoperability and, ultimately, what makes the most sense.
Sharing best practices and applicable case studies from early participants is one way of crafting a working template. What works and what doesn’t can offer an essential guideline in moving forward. Facilitating open forums to share ideas and insights, as the IIC is championing, is another.
Ultimately, learning from experience and developing the boldness and confidence needed to advance IoT will enhance the networks in terms of viability, efficiency, and building a more secure framework.
Privacy and security safeguards
A critical consideration for all participants is this: How do we manage to keep this fast-growing network and the nearly incalculable amount of data moving continually safe and secure?
There are two sides of that equation. Clearly, personally identifiable information remains a concern, and it always will. The notion of cops and robbers, good guys and bad guys, that’s a notion embedded deep within our culture, and will be that way as our communications through the Internet and the cloud continue to grow, deepen, and expand.
We can say with some certainty that encryption will get better, become more sophisticated over time. We can also say that the bad guys are pretty smart, adaptive, and continually hunting for ways to exploit the system. For health care organizations a razor focus on developing supple, comprehensive cyber security programs is imperative.
The cost of privacy has two important variables. One is fundamental: What does it cost the health care enterprise to safeguard your data, or the cloud service provider to ensure the cloud is impenetrable (or as close to that ideal as possible)? What does it cost your doctor, or your local hospital, to ensure the safety of vital personal information?
The flip side of the coin is the balance of potential loss against the opportunity IoT offers. Many of us are willing to take a risk with privacy if we feel the return is worth more than the risk assumed. Where that line stops will determine how willing patients are to push IoT in terms of health care data delivery to the limit.
Certainly there are barriers yet to clear in order for IoT to succeed – technology issues, proprietary matters, cost considerations, and regulatory questions. But those who participate in the IoT ecosystem must work together to create solutions that help unlock industry value, company value, and – on a more personal level – value to the consumer.
To learn more about strategies ‒ for both enterprise adopters and Internet of Things providers ‒ to unlock the business value of connected devices, download The internet of things ecosystem: Unlocking the business value of connected devices.
Eric Openshaw has more than 30 years of experience in assisting clients with enterprise transformation, business process reengineering, manufacturing/distribution strategy, technology strategy, M&A analysis and post-acquisition consolidation, order fulfillment, supply chain, information systems strategic planning, technology evaluation, and design-development and implementation of software primarily for discrete and process manufacturing distribution retail and retail distribution.