The Robot Doctor Will See You Now

June 11, 2013

Last week, I was at a seminar on Connected Health and saw some pretty scary statistics. For example, the number of people who are going to be over the age of 80 by 2020 is set to double. In Europe, this equates to more than 29m people. In the UK, care for the over-65s now comprises of 40% of all NHS spending. And, not only is the population aging at a significant rate, healthcare is shifting from acute to chronic illnesses. Of course, healthcare systems are not evolving at the rate of demographic change. Who is going to take care of these people, especially those without an extended family? The government of Norway now estimates that it will need an additional 100,000 people in the healthcare industry in 10 years. The current options of care homes and nursing homes are neither appealing nor able to cope with the numbers involved.

Health monitoring

Remote and on-going monitoring will be essential to support those people outside of traditional healthcare environments. The world of IoT will allow more intelligent, continuous monitoring. Health care professionals will be able to collect and store real-time information about their patients and even be alerted when something is wrong and action is needed.

Imagine that a nurse no longer has to check your father’s vital signs 4 times a day if he is in hospital. Instead, your connected hospital bed monitors vital signs continuously and even sends you a text message saying that he is ok. And, when he comes home, the smart drug pack sends you an alert to say that he hasn’t opened the pack or sends him a reminder that it’s time to take the medication. Or, perhaps his smartphone can confirm that he’s taken not only the right pills but the right amount at the right time of day.

There are even benefits of continuous monitoring within a hospital. Aventura Hospital, in Florida, has started tracking patients using a small plastic wristband like Nike+. They receive this wristband during admission. It automatically checks in as they arrive in their bed, travel around the hospital and check-out. The system does the same for the equipment. No longer do doctors or nurses have to search for patients, beds or equipment.

Health Monitoring

Remote monitoring could also prevent unnecessary trips to the doctor or hospital. There are already devices, apps and iPhone plug ins like GlucoDock which let diabetics track their own blood sugar levels, or CareLogger which also helps measure blood pressure, meals and weight. These sensors are already being built into our clothing (bio-tracking clothing like the Under Armour shirt tracks your heart rate, lung capacity and metabolism) and it won’t be long before our car seatbelts could just as easily be set to automatically notify a doctor or care giver if our blood pressure exceeded a pre-determined threshold.

And, imagine how the Internet of Things could save lives in hospitals by fighting infections. Handwashing has been proven to prevent hospital-acquired infections. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data shows that hand washing by providers only occurs 55 percent of the time. But, now, by wearing badges that count each room entry and exit, along with the use of soap or sanitiser dispensers, tracking hand washing is automated and doesn’t interfere with existing hospital processes.

A large part of the impact of IoT will be to help connect the fragmented and increasing decentralised healthcare world. Remote monitoring and the continuous stream of data sent to doctors, care givers and even patients themselves, will drive better and faster decision-making.

The Internet of Things will increasingly become a necessity in a world of increasing healthcare demand and decreasing resources.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Andy Perrin

Andy Perrin

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