Accessorizing for Your Health

Phyllis Post, VP and CIO-Global Human Health IT, Merck
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Why the Internet of Things (IoT) is turning heads in the healthcare space and what companies can do to get ready.

Gartner says that by 2020 there will be over 26 billion connected devices in the world. That’s more than triple what experts are estimating the global population of people will be. When I first heard that statistic, I had three striking reactions. As a human being, I couldn’t help but shudder a little as I recalled the science fiction movies from my childhood where nefarious machines took over the world. As a technology enthusiast, I was giddy at the thought of all of the new gadgets that will make their way onto the scene. As an information technology executive at a life sciences company, I was encouraged and energized at what this technological (and data) revolution could mean for the science of being well.

Why Life Sciences Has a Healthy Appetite for IoT

With Internet of Things (IoT), the world is looking at perhaps the biggest technology-induced transformation in history—potentially bigger than the invention of the Internet itself. While this paradigm shift may bring about many novel conveniences (such as your refrigerator texting you each time you’re out of milk), the reason why IoT is turning heads in the healthcare space is for its potential ability to enable us to leverage a highly distributed and personal set of devices to obtain patient-level data with incredible richness and frequency—ultimately leading to earlier detection of disease, more effective intervention and better science.

  ​IoT could offer critical real-world evidence about the outcomes derived from therapies—which will likely govern healthcare reimbursement in the future  

While nearly every aspect of healthcare could be touched and enhanced by IoT, some of the most profound opportunities include the following:

IoT could improve our understanding of patients and their preferences. The data coming in from IoT will contain the social, personal and physiological information that is likely to define the next baseline of patient/consumer context for self-care. A person's health is strongly influenced by a wide range of environmental and behavioral factors, such as where they live, their social activities, their lifestyle and what they like to do. Through data collected via IoT, the healthcare industry could potentially round out its understanding of patients, gaining the insight that will drive better therapies and improve the effectiveness of population health efforts.

IoT could offer critical real-world evidence about the outcomes derived from therapies—which will likely govern healthcare reimbursement in the future. Regulators around the world are increasingly moving towards using real-world evidence (in addition to results from clinical studies) to determine the reimbursement of therapies. IoT has the potential to provide companies with the anonymized patient-level data they need to determine the outcomes and value of their products in the real world, while also offering critical insight that could lead to better science.

IoT allows for healthcare organizations to build real-time, personalized engagement with consumers and patients that could save and improve lives.As organizations are increasingly accountable to deliver outcomes with their therapies, it will be imperative to see the patient more broadly—in the context of their lives. As such, they will need to also address patient behaviors—from diet and exercise to adherence and compliance—to enable improved health outcomes. This will require the ability to sense certain conditions and deliver personalized messages to patients—a level of direct engagement and mass customization that would have been too expensive or difficult before IoT.

The Art and Science of Choosing What to Wear

IoT and wearables make accessorizing more than an art; they transform it into a potentially life-saving science. Imagine the use of fabric-like sensors that people can unobtrusively wear on their skin that sense and transmit heart rate, temperature, breathing, movement or blood sugar levels to doctors and caregivers, who can in turn intervene before a condition becomes more serious. Or what if an organization could actively monitor insulin or exercise levels in a patient with diabetes, and immediately and automatically send personalized recommendations back to the patient (i.e., “you had too much sugar today,” “you should increase your activity level,” “don’t forget to take your pill,” etc.)? Such monitoring, particularly for individuals with chronic diseases, could not only improve health outcomes, but also lower costs.

Experimenting for the Future

While IoT is not without risk, the potential for it to dramatically transform the way disease is treated, diagnosed and prevented is far too great for companies to sit on the sidelines. There are undoubtedly going to be a lot of companies vying to take advantage of this space, so businesses should begin experimenting now and running proof of concepts to gain insight and experience. They should start thinking about the value they can provide or derive throughout the IoT lifecycle and begin building use cases. Only by experimenting and failing will businesses be able to understand the technology enough to positively influence and shape how this space evolves. And, rest assured, it will evolve. 

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