By Rick Valencia, general manager at Qualcomm Life
A rise in chronic illnesses and aging populations is presenting challenges for traditional health care providers in the UK. Chronic diseases eat up 70% of healthcare spend [Department of Health UK, 2011] and are primarily treated or managed in emergency departments or in surgery. This can cause unnecessary readmissions; long term conditions were one of the most common causes according to SG2 [SG2 Service Kit 2011].
Much of this could be avoided if patients were able to connect with their physicians from home to avoid acute care episodes. Digitalising health care and implementing Internet of Things (IoT) networks and applications can make this possible.
Connecting hospital to home
Connectivity and integration are the real enablers of digital health, and can ultimately allow treatment to be delivered at the right time, wherever the patient or care provider is.
During a trial at the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Harrow, UK, telehealth devices and wireless connectivity helped the hospital achieve zero avoidable readmissions and saw a 99% patient satisfaction rating [TBS GB]. While the patients were admitted initially to the hospital, treatment was provided at home with a telemedicine kit, with data captured, transmitted and visualised in the cloud.
This is only the start; the Internet of Medical Things will help healthcare providers and device manufacturers push the boundaries of innovation. Soon we will see everything from a pill monitoring internal organs, to wireless medical devices sending near real time data that can be captured in the cloud, analysed and presented back to a care team.
The Internet of Medical Things will enable closed feedback loops across various devices, apps and analytics that actually administer care without human intervention, data that acts as medicine. But to make this all a reality, we need to have secure end to end interoperability and connectivity across the care continuum.
Securing patient trust
Medical devices, sensors and networks need to be medical-grade. Without this protection, m-health applications, which can enhance the telehealth experience, will be left vulnerable whilst capturing patient data.
For chronic disease patients and their care providers this isn’t an option. They need to feel secure that the data, around which they are sometimes making life or death decisions, is regulated and can be trusted.
While many of the technologies exist today to make the Internet of Medical Things a reality, there are still hurdles that need to be overcome before digital health will be the norm. In other industries, technology is easily and quickly adopted when it creates efficiencies for businesses or consumers, even if it doesn’t work perfectly. In healthcare, this is not the case.
There are necessary regulatory processes in place as companies are often times dealing with life or death therapies or devices. So there’s no concept of releasing products early and fixing them as you get customer feedback.
There are also a number of stakeholders that have to buy-in to new technology: payers, care providers, and patients. And all of these stakeholders are motivated by something different.
For technology to become pervasive throughout healthcare, we need to continue to work to align incentives across the stakeholders; ensure that payment reform takes place so providers are able to get on board with new technologies, develop solutions that enhance provider workflow instead of disrupting it, and design positive, convenient experiences for patients to engage them in their own health.
But really hard problems are the ones worth solving and challenges abound when innovating in any industry. In fact, running into seemingly intractable challenges usually means you’re on the right track to solving something big.
Qualcomm Life provides a wireless solution for chronic disease management and reliable sharing of medical information.