The Internet of Things: Transforming treatment with connected healthcare

Product Manager IoT Division - Connected Products, IBM

When I talk to customers about their project ambitions for the Internet of Things (IoT), the use cases and ultimate goals of their projects seem limitless. Smart products, from smart locks to smart surgical devices, are undergoing a renaissance as the capabilities of these once analog products come to life through smart features and functions. Indeed, manufacturers now expect a whole portfolio of services to accompany their products.

But the IoT community is wondering what will come next: What will happen after the Internet of Things matures? What sort of innovation will be possible when 50 billion sensors are interconnected and when the Spark and Hadoop frameworks are processing data sets of unprecedented size in mere minutes, on the hunt for patterns and anomalies? To what degree will automation rule our lives? What opportunities will be truly transformative? healthcare for an aging global population

As we age, we see our doctors ever more often—so much so that our doctor may begin to seem like just another member of the family. These visits are part of getting old—we can’t escape them. But I have begun to notice just how frequently my own grandparents visit the doctor. They visit their primary care provider at least 3 or 4 times each month—sometimes as many as 9 or 10 times between the two of them. By contrast, I—being half their age—visit the doctor no more than twice each year.

And it’s not only my family members who are aging. In developed areas throughout the world, ever more people are living longer than 60 years. By 2050, people who are 60 years old or older may make up as much as 32 percent of the population, up from 23 percent now. In the US alone, the population of those older than 65 grew 18 percent from 2000 to 2011—an increase of 6.4 million in just about a decade.

The aging global population results from a confluence of factors, among them advancements in medicine and in medical treatments, heightened public awareness of the importance of healthful eating and exercise and perhaps also recovering national economies. Whatever the ultimate causes, we are seeing a global lengthening of life span and a jump in the numbers of people who are 60 years old or older—a pairing of trends that some expect to continue, unabated, for a century.

Seeing transformative opportunities in the Internet of Things

Approximately 80 percent of the more than $8 trillion spent on healthcare focuses on treating chronic diseases (such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and mental conditions) that cannot be cured by periodic visits to the doctor but rather must be managed daily. Unfortunately, both providers and patients lack a comprehensive, efficient means of monitoring and managing such diseases outside care facilities.

But perhaps the Internet of Things can help. Achieving even a savings of 1 percent would create a very significant business opportunity indeed. Accordingly, in June 2015, McKinsey had the following to say about connected care:

IoT has potential for transformative change in human health. Using connected devices to continuously monitor patients as they live their lives, particularly those with chronic conditions such as diabetes, the internet of things can improve patient adherence to prescribed therapies, avoid hospitalizations (and post hospitalization complications) and improve the quality of life for hundreds of millions of patients. This could have an economic impact of $170 billion to $1.7 trillion per year in 2025. Use of IoT systems could enable societal benefits worth more than $500 billion per year, based on improved health of users and reduced cost of care for patients with chronic diseases.

With that sort of money involved, we’re probably going to be hearing a lot about connected healthcare and connected medical devices. Indeed, Qualcomm Life, a subsidiary of Qualcomm that focuses on using wireless technology to advance capabilities of medical devices, has announced its acquisition of Capsule, a medical device integration and clinical data management company used by nearly 2,000 hospitals in 38 countries around the world. Qualcomm Life helps connect medical devices at home, and Capsule not only connects devices, but also integrates them into patient medical records across a hospital’s entire network. Together, they aim to provide care from the home to the hospital.

To discover how you can transform your business to capitalize on this opportunity, learn more about IBM IoT Electronics, then take part in the three-day IBM Business of Things Jam to speak with hundreds of experts, both IBM and non-IBM, about doing business through the Internet of Things. I myself will be hosting a four-hour session on the first day: I hope to see you there!

To continue the conversation on connected healthcare, get in touch with me on Twitter .