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Applying the Laws of Science to the Internet of Things and Healthcare IT

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September 22, 2014
CTOvision
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Today, “Internet of Things” (IoT) is shouted at every corner, both in the business and private spheres. Even though this notion is going viral and touches upon all sectors of our lives, it actually has no clear definition. In order not to get biased or limited in its interpretation and thus, strategize properly, I will try to establish a comprehensive insight into both what IoT is, and what it is not.

Internet of Things: What’s in a Name?

According to a popular belief, IoT just means more data. Yes, an influx of connected devices indeed presupposes more data, but IoT does not equal this only.

Draw a parallel with the Law of Large Numbers on the global scale. For a particular field, the volumes of data will grow until the Law of Large Numbers emerges there. This state will be achieved only when we recreate a digital copy of our physical world. It is more data at an atomic level, though there are other higher levels that we need to take into account while strategizing.

Neither is IoT about more devices. With wearables being the pure hype of today’s Quantified Self movement, gadgets complement not only people’s lives (like fitness trackers, smart watches, or medical arm bands), but also empower technological items with new functions (e.g., vehicles with GPS or anti-gridlocks) and allow devices to communicate between themselves (M2M). As a result, allegedly dumb machines become smarter, stationary equipment obtains a power of remote control, and step by step, we move on to new levels (like brand new drones).

However, the role of proven, older devices should not be underestimated: for example, surveillance cameras still record valuable data, vehicle radars provide reliable footage, etc. Indeed, devices become smaller and more powerful because miniaturization is a modern buildup. But while smaller devices emerge one by one, big machines will remain. Just as Moore’s Law states, expect a hardware breakthrough every three years, if not more frequently.

The truth is, IoT is about people more than it is about Big Data or chips. The entire economy exists to serve people, but we should think in details. IoT is based on the network effect – networks, between people at different levels (individuals, groups, and societies), people and devices, devices and devices. According to Metcalfe’s Law, the value from network is squared to the number of things connected within that network – it is a synergetic value. Referring to Morgan Stanley, IoT happens exactly at the intersection of Big Data, Chips and Networks. Bright examples of such networks in Healthcare IT may be Accountable Care Organizations (ACO) and Patient Portals.

Health IT Has Led the Way Getting Devices Connected

Healthcare IT appears to be one of the brightest promises IoT has to offer. Aimed at improved care accessibility, quality and reducing related costs, IoT drives healthcare application and devices in collecting, analyzing and transmitting data. Here is how IoT positively affects healthcare:

  • Constant noninvasive monitoring of patients who require close psychological attention;
  • Wireless solution for patients who don’t have sufficient approachable monitoring;
  • Remote daily monitoring aimed at prevention or early intervention of health damage (e.g., taking care of seniors who live alone);
  • Regular usage of statistical data for scheduling more patients (e.g., utilizing MRI-availability in different locations);
  • Informing about needed refilling when medical supplies are about to be depleted;
  • Remote communication between patients and healthcare providers, as well as interaction with personal health records (e.g., Patient Portals);
  • High quality coordination for in-time care, duplication omissions and medical errors prevention (e.g., Accountable Care Organizations);

Apple HealthKit’s Role in mHealth

Taking into account all the recent hype about Apple’s products, it’s appropriate to analyze Apple’s impact on mHealth. Providing a comprehensive view of user’s health and fitness, HealthKit establishes the interaction of patients and physicians regarding a range of health matters. This is particularly promising for the treatment of chronic conditions such as asthma, hypertension, diabetes and obesity.

On one hand, Apples HealthKit may lead to a faster and lower cost software development environment; on the other, data security and accuracy, healthcare provider policies, HIPPA requirements and many other potential issues yet uncovered could be a significant blocker, so its necessary to consider all pros and cons before rushing into it.

Connected Devices and Preventive Medicine

Connected sensors, wearables and trackers can collect, store and send a variety of patients’ vital signs, including heart and pulse rates, respiration rate, blood pressure or blood sugar level, cardiac rhythm, snoring levels or even head movement during sleep (check out, for example, the cloud-based apps by Vivify, Independa, Watermark and iRhythm). If collected and analyzed on a regular basis, this data can serve as a basis for improved, reliable diagnosing, as well bring medical research to a whole new level offering detailed insight into the way chronic diseases affect the human body.

The rapid development of telemedicine and remote health consultations, combined with the advances that robotics continue to make, might bring healthcare to a level when surgery and manual therapy are the only types of patient care that would still require a patient to physically visit a hospital. InTouch has already made some progress in that direction with their FDA-approved iRobot aimed to establish high-quality remote patient-doctor communication.

Conclusion

With such IoT stages as Verticalization and Mobilization behind us, and the first steps into Digitization already taken, there seems to be many exciting opportunities for Health IT just waiting to be explored.

Vasyl Mylko is Director of Research and Development at SoftServe, Inc. Vasyl is responsible for research and thought leadership including Internet of Everything, Advanced Analytics, User Experience, and Mobility & Wearables. He holds a Master’s Degree in Cybernetics from Ivan Franko National University in Lviv, Ukraine. An expert in cutting-edge technologies, Vasyl is a frequent speaker and workshop presenter as well as a mentor giving speeches at Universities and technology associations, as well major global conferences.