How IoT is transforming healthcare

June 01, 2015

How IoT is transforming healthcare

Healthcare is a complex challenge for patients, providers and regulators around the globe. The Internet of Things (IoT), however, is set to transform...

Healthcare is a complex challenge for patients, providers and regulators around the globe. The Internet of Things (IoT), however, is set to transform the industry – and has the potential to significantly alter how we perform diagnoses and treatment – and ultimately, make care more accessible. Technologies such as mobile connectivity, sensors, analytics, and connected devices are already changing the way we manage patient care. While the full potential of IoT healthcare won't likely be reached for several more years, machine-to-machine (M2M) technology is already making a difference, transforming everything from senior living to medical research.

IoT solutions are helping to make the medical world smaller and faster – remotely connecting patients and doctors – and enabling the capture of medical data. The advent of big data analytics is driving this forward even further, as companies now realize the data produced by M2M solutions has potentially huge value. These capabilities not only have the ability to transform the way we access care as a whole, they can also help manage long-term care and chronic conditions more effectively, not only improving quality of life and independence, but also freeing up critical resources at hospitals and doctors' offices.

Beyond the potential to revolutionize patient care, IoT solutions are also transforming the way clinicians research and develop new treatments. Sensors and M2M-enabled devices are allowing researchers unrivalled access to clinical trial patient data. With the global nature of medical research, the availability of data at the fingertips allows researchers to respond to a change in conditions, to have a more holistic view of the progress of the trial, and to speed the close of the trial – potentially accelerating the availability of innovative new treatments.

Transforming medical research

Clinical trial research helps academics and pharmaceutical companies learn more about diseases, and is the primary way new treatments are determined to be suitable for the market. The clinical trial process is lengthy (averaging more than 10 years for new therapies), expensive, and complicated by varying global regulations around the world. And, due in part to the lack of reliable connectivity around the world, it is often a struggle for trial participants and clinical sites to report critical data reliably, efficiently, and cost-effectively.

ERT, a leading provider of patient-driven eData systems used to collect electronic assessments from patients in clinical research, is working with Vodafone, using its M2M technology to more efficiently manage worldwide clinical trials through real-time access to patient experience data – enabling researchers to make faster decisions with confidence. Connecting the ERT electronic clinical outcome assessment (eCOA) System to Vodafone's global M2M network, allows patient trial data to be available to researchers through a portal for easy review, reporting and comparison. This not only gives a more accurate view of the whole trial, but has the potential to speed the development of safe and innovative treatments. Currently, the ERT eCOA System is used to collect data in 700+ clinical trials in more than 75 countries.

Over the next three years, ERT will deliver thousands of tablets embedded with the Vodafone M2M SIM, bundled with ERT SitePad study-specific software application, to clinical research sites across North and South America, Europe, Asia, and Africa, allowing trial participants to record symptoms and experiences securely. ERT will manage the performance and speed of global connections through Vodafone's global M2M platform, and clinical trial participants will record information about their symptoms and experiences in the ERT SitePad mobile tablet, which stores all data collected privately and securely.

Clinical trials are conducted globally, and solutions like the partnership between ERT and Vodafone ensure every patient and clinical site can send critical data reliably – a typically challenging task as connectivity is not uniform globally. Partnering with Vodafone has given ERT greater flexibility and reliability in data connectivity across the world, helping to increase the effectiveness of clinical studies and make it easier to develop safe and innovative treatments for patients.

While a bulk of global medical research is still logged through error-prone and costly paper diaries, solutions like the new partnership between ERT and Vodafone will soon be on the rise. Today, approximately 40 to 50 percent of studies that rely on clinical outcome assessments as endpoints are using electronic systems to collect those data streams. And, adoption of electronic systems is expected to increase over the next 5 to 10 years. This will allow site and sponsor staff to see patient reported data in real-time, and proactively track both compliance and safety between visits, which is not possible with paper methods.

IoT enabling remote care and independence

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), by 2050, there will be an estimated 2 billion people over the age of 60, up from 841 million in 2013. Our current healthcare systems and providers are not prepared to meet the challenge of managing the chronic conditions that come with an aging population. The efficiencies provided by M2M-enabled connected devices will play a significant role in meeting the long-term healthcare demands of the population.

M2M solutions provide a reliable way to keep track of patients, as well as seniors living at home. Mobile devices and GPS locators can monitor a patient's location and send alerts in the event of an accident. For those with chronic or degenerative diseases, this service offers peace of mind. However, these solutions can also provide independence for aging seniors and loved ones who are simply looking for reassurance.

One example of this sort of solution is Lively, a smart home provider that uses Vodafone's Global M2M SIM for a system that helps elderly people living in their own homes to improve their safety and independence. The system consists of an in-home hub, safety watch for 24/7 medical alert response and activity sensors, which can be placed on household items like pill boxes, refrigerators and doors. The in-home cellular hub provides range for the safety watch, which also features missed medication reminders, step counting and more. Lively's passive activity sensors log a person's daily routines to indicate a range of activities – from preparing dinner to taking medication – providing insight to alert family members or caregivers when anything may be amiss to help prevent emergencies.

With the Vodafone M2M technology in the in-home hub, users can use the system information without connecting to the internet, making it simple for older people who may not have a broadband connection. As an increasing number of older people are staying in their homes, this technology will help to increase the safety of elderly people and to give loved ones peace of mind.

Connected solutions like Lively have the potential to relieve the impending burden on the healthcare system. By evaluating the data and intervening when appropriate precious dollars can be saved by avoiding unnecessary trips to a clinic or ER.

What's next for connected health?

In the coming years, The Internet of Things will continue to gain traction across industries – healthcare and pharmaceuticals among them. From fitness trackers to smart thermostats, the general public is already seeing the value of IoT connectivity, paving the way for connected devices to permeate every aspect of our lives.

New standards, technologies and techniques will emerge that will enable machines, customers and businesses to communicate simply and effectively in a highly connected world. The business value of big data insights will continue to push IoT forward. And the medical industry, typically regulation-driven and technology averse, will soon see how IoT and connected health solutions can help close the gap – making care more accessible around the world, and improving the quality of life of those with chronic conditions.

Andrew Morawski is Head of M2M for the Americas at Vodafone.