Evolution and Revolution: Envisioning the Future of Healthcare
Picture this: a day when the hub of healthcare delivery is no longer the hospital or clinic, but the home. In this new world, an intricate network of apps, sensors, and wearable devices yields an abundance of patient-generated health data – helping care teams to better manage chronic diseases, modify treatment plans, and keep patients out of acute care environments. Feedback from virtual monitoring and treatment motivates patients to become highly engaged partners in their care. Advanced analytics give providers the knowledge they need, in real time, to improve individual health outcomes, treatment protocols, and population health. Every moment of every day, this Internet of Healthcare Things, as it’s called (IoHT), dramatically transforms care delivery, heralding a new era in patient-centric care, lower healthcare costs, and data-driven health decisions.
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Changing the picture through digital technologies
According to Eric Rock, founder and CEO of Vivify Health, a fast-growing international digital health company, the future of healthcare is one of tremendous promise. “Healthcare stakeholders are turning to digital technologies not only to evolve care, but to revolutionize it,” he says. “From care teams relying on remote monitoring technologies for gathering data and adjusting treatment plans to patients using smartphone applications for tracking their health metrics, these innovations are rapidly gaining ground.”
In a new delivery system focused on outcomes and payment for value, digital health is a prime solution for driving outcomes-based healthcare through early detection, ongoing care management, and data analytics, Rock points out. It is also a solution for controlling costs by better managing chronic diseases, reducing the need for acute care hospital visits, and lowering out-of-pocket costs for consumers, who are shouldering more and more of the financial burden for their care.
Creating actionable data
The era of value-based, patient-centric care presents the unprecedented need to share and analyze data. The initial role of IoHT analytics will likely be to “reduce the noise and amplify the signal,” Rock says – enabling providers to efficiently manage rising-risk and at-risk populations. Then, this data can be mined to improve patient and population health while enabling providers to triage patients who need early intervention.
“Analytics can also be applied to provide caregivers with intelligent recommendations based on best practices,” Rock says. Eventually, he explains, the algorithms will use “machine learning” based on in-depth analysis of protocols, interventions, and outcomes data – launching the next generation of clinical decision support.
According to Rock, as the volume of patient data explodes, healthcare organizations will increasingly move data to the cloud – creating a single, unified platform that offers the capacity to scale up and keep pace with data growth.
Tapping the power of smart phones
Consumer devices such as smart phones, or “bring your own device” (BYOD) – will continue to be a bountiful source of IoHT health data, Rock says. “Today’s smart phones incorporate an array of built-in sensors, including pulse, accelerometer, and GPS. In the future, they will likely include even more, such as EKG, temperature, and oxygen saturation.”
Today, Near Field Communication (NFC) capabilities are in place with BYOD, enabling direct communications with NFC-powered skin patches that collect numerous measurements, he explains. “Creative startups are working on NFC patches that can power and communicate with a device the size of a grain of salt – injected under the skin to provide constant measurements, such as interstitial blood glucose.” These solutions, he says, will radically change today’s invasive processes for blood tests, leading to continual and automated laboratory testing.
Wearing our hearts on our wrists
According to Rock, we are rapidly moving toward a time when we can track our health continuously through wearable devices. For example, smart watches already have valuable features for health sensing, from heart rate for identifying early risk to barometers for detecting advanced falls and integrated cellular that enables immediate voice communications. More clinical applications are on the horizon.
“Collecting data from wearables yields personalized information that will help people better manage their health. Coupled with clinically based algorithms, this information will paint a truly holistic picture of each individual’s health status and will lead to better-informed health decisions.”
Building the smart home
The home of tomorrow will be furnished with smart devices that facilitate health management, Rock notes. For example, the bedroom might include monitors that serve up data on sleep patterns; the bathroom, a toilet that can analyze urine content; the kitchen, scanners that gauge food ingredients; and the entire home, sensors that assess everything from walking gait to heart rate. A groundbreaking study found about 10 percent of US broadband households have some type of smart home product or service. By 2019, the number of homes with a smart home controller is expected to top 26 million.
Making the dream a reality
The future of healthcare is no longer a dream. It is readily become a reality. Fueled by payment models that reward value over volume, providers have fresh incentives to keep costs down and patients well. As digital technologies continue to become more affordable, they will also become more ubiquitous and more impactful in shaping the emerging center of the healthcare universe: the home.