Healthcare Internet of Things Partner Insights

Unlocking Healthcare’s Data

Measuring ourselves with devices around us will make us healthier. (Photo courtesy Philips)

Measuring ourselves with devices around us will make us healthier. (Photo courtesy Philips)

There has never been more potential for technology to bring new solutions to global healthcare–nor more need.

One out of three people will develop cancer during their lifetime. More than 500 million people suffer from respiratory diseases, and 400 million people worldwide have diabetes. Healthcare costs are soaring almost everywhere, largely because of increased chronic disease management. People are also living longer and want new solutions that allow them to live independently while managing chronic illness.

Meanwhile, people of all ages want to take a more active role in managing their own health and are eager to use new technologies. All these topics will play a big role at the Techonomy 2016 conference November 9-11 at Half Moon Bay, California, and in the Techonomy Health event that precedes it.

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New systems can make it easier to manage our health. (Image courtesy Philips)

While we have heard much about the potential of the Internet of Things, its power to impact healthcare is just beginning. Computing power, miniaturization, mobile, big data, the cloud, and social networks are all driving this critical trend. Approximately 84 million wearable devices – from fitness trackers to smart watches and connected bracelets – were sold globally in 2015. Gartner predicts that more than 500 million will be sold annually by 2020 and almost two in five of us will use a wearable by 2019.

As Techonomy’s Program Director Simone Ross recently wrote, as she planned for Techonomy 2016: “We are entering a new reality where data-gathering of all sorts accumulates across global society. IoT will measure and store tons of data about us and the world. So how can we take advantage of this data? Ultimately we will need to be able to feed data about their health back to individuals in real time so they can alter their behavior accordingly.”

Philips offers extensive data to consumers and to doctors through its tools.

Philips offers extensive data to consumers and to doctors through its tools.

The challenges are not insignificant. Making your medical and personal health data available for better care is the goal. But there is no easy way to collect thorough individual health data, because different pieces of the picture live in different systems with different formats.

“Our collaborative mission as an industry is to empower people to take control of their health, by using connected devices and aggregating clinical and contextual data. This data will be interpreted to allow better decision making by consumers/patients and their care givers” says Jeroen Tas, CEO Connected Care and Health Informatics at Philips. “We offer clinicians the digital tools to integrate data from different sources to create richer patient profiles and better clinical decision support using AI. But we also need to start thinking about connecting the dots, even beyond the traditional boundaries of healthcare, and include all drivers of health to improve healthcare.” Tas points out that social, economic, genetic, behavioral and environmental factors all influence our health. By understanding the interrelationships and patterns, we can prevent disease both at the individual and population level.

The Philips Future Health Index research questioned more than 25,000 patients and thousands of care professionals. It shows that data about health is indeed proliferating but also that access to the data remains a major challenge. Not surprisingly, younger people are more prepared and open to the idea of access to health data, and they have the willingness and the ability to share it.  Healthcare professionals, however, are more conservative, probably largely because of reimbursement and regulatory issues. A full 74% of individuals report having to repeat the same information to multiple healthcare professionals. Even though 60% of patients own or use connected care technology, only one-third of them have ever shared this information with a healthcare professional.

Says Prakash Khot, SVP and CTO of Athenahealth, a platform provider for healthcare (and speaker at Techonomy Health): “Starting from the ground up, with data as building blocks, we should approach the healthcare system as a true care delivery network. It is not simply a place where one patient is treated by one provider, but where care teams collaborate, patients are engaged, and most importantly, patient data seamlessly follows the patient wherever he or she receives care.”

Data sharing is also a big challenge in healthcare research. Recently, Meredith Salisbury wrote on Techonomy about how it slows progress in traditional cancer research, which is why the Obama administration’s  “Cancer Moonshot” is so focused on data-sharing efforts.  The separate U.S. Government Precision Medicine Initiative is an important step to develop individualized care for key disease areas.

In another Techonomy article Salisbury reported that researchers for the initiative worry that disparate data and disconnected databases make it harder to mobilize the fight against cancer. And when experts were asked what kind of spending would have the most effect in the battle against cancer, data sharing came out on top. When a panel of scientists, physicians, and company executives were queried on best ways to spend money, they strongly recommended better data sharing and more database interoperability, along with basic research and other technology development.

Salisbury also explains how HIPAA can be a thorn in the side of U.S. medical researchers. Zealous application of HIPAA rules prevents scientists from sharing data, even when doing so would further basic research or help them develop a cure for that patient’s illness. Imagine an entire universe of such rules, all governing different areas of data, privacy and security. You begin to understand why medical progress doesn’t happen as quickly as we would like.

It’s clear that data and data sharing are vital for the future of healthcare, for the health of individuals, and for scientists and clinicians to set the next steps in improved diagnostics and treatment. Says Daniel Barchi, SVP and CIO of New York-Presbyterian Hospital (and another Techonomy Health speaker): “Data is at the root of all clinical decision making. Test results guide physician choices, and clinical cost analysis drives medical insurance rates.”

“Data will improve patient outcomes in the future through personalized medicine,” Barchi continues. “NewYork-Presbyterian is pioneering cancer care tailored to the specific needs of an individual patient through gene sequencing and analysis. And data will also lower costs broadly. We use data to deliver targeted care in our Accountable Care Organization to those patients who need it most. The right care at the right time forestalls significant spending later.”

Leaders in health care are looking to other industries to help the sector strike the right balance, both in access to data and in how to design products that will lead to actionable insights for physicians.

“Other industries are demonstrating a more nuanced understanding of how smart, connected tech can actually be used by people, not just how it was designed to be used,” says Techonomy Health speaker Rachel Maguire, Research Director of the Health Horizons Program at the Institute for the Future, in an email. “They are experimenting with the idea that wearables should be designed for impermanence – temporary tools that we use to reprogram our unhealthy behaviors and retrain ourselves to make healthier choices. They are finding that the function of wearables is to build intuitive health practices, not create a lifetime dependency on a tech device. Once the behavior(s) has/have been modified, and we are intuitively making choices that support good health, we are liberated from the device, and the monitoring and tracking that goes with it.” (Carlos Olguin of LogicInk will speak at Techonomy 2016 and Techonomy Health about how his company aims soon for low-cost biosensors to be embedded in temporary tattoos, to detect blood alcohol, sugar, or biomarkers related to diseases.)

Of course, navigating a disparate healthcare system is a huge challenge that other industries aren’t faced with. But success in health also has a bigger payoff. We can transform how healthcare is delivered, and transform the lives of people across society.

Joost Malta is Director of Communications at Philips. David Kirkpatrick is Techonomy’s CEO.