By Kyle Gingrich
Whether we realize it or not, every day The Internet of Things (IoT) is changing the way we live our lives. So pervasive and extensive is its reach, it can be hard to examine the real impact it is having, however, I believe Healthcare is a good industry to start with as it touches everyone at some point.
So just how is IoT affecting and changing Healthcare and what does this mean for us?
One of the main ways IoT is changing Healthcare is Telehealth.
What is Telehealth? Telehealth is where technology meets the healthcare industry to deliver virtual medical, health and educational services. It’s becoming a pervasive part of the way the healthcare industry is doing business. According to a recent Zion report, the global telehealth market is experiencing significant growth by 2022, with the North American market leading with projected growth at roughly 41% and rising.
The ever-increasing cost of providing healthcare is the primary driver behind telehealth’s popularity when we consider just how costly providing healthcare is for employers. For 2017, US companies faced a 4.3% increase in these costs, the highest since 2011, which explains why when asked, 9 out of 10 employers said they plan to add telehealth services to their employee healthcare benefits.
How does Telehealth reduce costs?
#1 Reduces number of hospitalizations
By keeping patients out of hospitals therefore cutting the expense of hospital stays/visits.
#2 Reduces amount of employee absenteeism
By providing patients access to care and disease management through wellness programs and the like results in less time away from the workplace.
#3 Grants Patients the Ability to Administer Their Own Care
Transferring some of the responsibility to patients for their own treatments often leads to reductions in hospital or doctor visits.
#4 Limits Non-Essential Expenditures
Savings through a decrease or elimination of travels costs and lost income/productivity levels.
#5 Improves Overall Health
Increasing disease and treatment awareness and education can lead to improved patient health and consequently a reduction of healthcare costs.
If you’re thinking this is simply a case of companies being more concerned about the bottom line than an employee’s health, it is worth noting that the American Medical Association (AMA) has lent its support to telehealth, acknowledging it as “an ongoing evolution of new models for the delivery of care and patient-physician interactions.”
And this, the ‘evolution of new models for the delivery of care’ is IoT in practical application.
Some much of enabling of this ‘activity’ rests on the ability for devices to connect and exchange data. Whether it is an app like My Fitness Pal, or a device like a heart monitor, it is the proactive nature of utilizing devices remotely to collect and exchange information; information that is then used to monitor for events or changes that could result in, as needed, either education or medical intervention.
For example, take an app that offers people with diabetes a wide range of features from uploading and tracking food logs, managing medications to monitoring insulin doses and blood sugar levels. Alerts can also be setup so that any information collected is accessible, in real-time, to nurses who can then electronically respond accordingly. Think about the convenience for a patient who can now get a mobile retinal photoscreening at their doctor’s office rather than having to schedule an appointment with a specialist.
In short, telehealth is, according to a report by the American Hospital Association (AHA), expanding access to care, improving outcomes for patients and reducing costs. It’s both a pro-active and re-active approach to making access to healthcare both easy and efficient.
IT ultimately is the backbone to the implementation of any telehealth program and the data captured driving the success of the program’s effectiveness. Of course, telehealth’s reliance on data is already raising some red flags, namely what measures are companies taking to protect this highly sensitive and confidential information? Work by researchers at the University of Alberta drew attention to the current lack of regulation and oversight, pointing out that the problem will only increase as we continue to produce ever-more amounts of genomic data.
As with all technological advancements, the training for those implementing these programs is vital to ensuring the customer experience is effortlessly integrated into daily life, while also being cost effective. And for a business, a telehealth solution needs to scalable, integrated and, most importantly, secure.
As telehealth continues to evolve, we will continue to see just how much technology is changing the way we manage our health.
Kyle Gingrich is the vice president of IT & Certification at Skillsoft.