Instrumented Interconnecteds Intelligent

by Alex Stein, IBM Telehealth Solutions Manager

A doctor’s visit usually lasts less than 30 minutes. If you have an annual checkup, that’s less than .001% of a year that your doctor will see you and make judgments about your health.  If you are healthy, that may be sufficient. But what if you are not?

Has your car ever made a funny sound for only a few minutes, or had a fault light come on but then go away? Since 1996 cars have been storing engine faults in memory, and newer vehicles with OnStar can run regular diagnostic checks and e-mail the results.  Now, we can do that for your body.

Smartphones and cellular technology have enabled a broad spectrum of bodily functions to be monitored, providing immediate feedback on your health. Devices from blood pressure cuffs to glucose meters to weight scales easily connect to smartphone apps that track key health indicators. The GPS in a phone can be used to warn people with asthma or pulmonary disease of smog alerts or high pollen counts, and then the smartphone can track the use of an inhaler to aid breathing.

All of this wouldn’t be possible without open standards to connect the devices, a network to enable communication, and analytic applications to track your health. The standards and communications architecture have been defined by the Continua industry organization.  The network is usually cellular or the Internet. And analytics range from simple bounds checking apps to complex decision algorithms that consider not only input from your monitoring device, but also from your medical records and other relevant information.

With the cost of smartphones and medical devices dropping dramatically, and increased reimbursement by health plans, more people are being monitored. This creates a virtuous cycle where the positive results – improved health and reduced cost – encourage expanding monitoring programs to a greater number of patients with a wider variety of conditions. In fact, the more data points that are collected, the better the analytics applications will become at identifying potential health issues, long before they become serious medical problems. It’s not unrealistic to imagine a time in the near future when anyone can opt in to monitor their health.

The list of potential uses is endless: Monitoring expecting mothers and their babies, tracking the recovery of patients recently discharged after surgery, managing medication compliance.  Or just keeping track of how much you exercise. It’s all medically relevant information that your doctor can use to keep you healthy – the other 525,570 minutes of the year you are not in her office.

Join us on Friday, June 15, for a Smarter Friday chat on the People for a Smarter Planet Facebook page where we’ll discuss the future of mobile healthcare and how we can stay connected and well. Members of the Continua Health Alliance, a non-profit, open industry organization of healthcare and technology collaborating to improve the quality of personal healthcare, will also join this conversation about the future of mobile health. 

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Although I agree with most of the above comments, as a family physician and engineer, it seems to me there is a lack of physician input in bringing these ideas into actual practice? Having patients informed about their health indicators, e.g. blood pressure, BMI, etc is one thing, but bringing this data to their doctor and working as a team to put it to meaningful use is another. In my opinion, this mobile technology needs to be useful to the patient and to the primary care team. The role of the family physician is to help the patient understand the data and assist him/her in making the necessary behavior modifications to prevent or delay disease. It seems to me specialists are often consulted for biomedical technologies like vascular stents, robotic surgical instruments and the like, but I have yet to hear of any of my family medicine colleagues invited to weigh in on applicable primary care technologies. Closing the gap between science/engineering and primary care medicine is where it is at…


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As you noted, empowering consumers will drive change. Already there are tens of thousands of healthcare-related apps on the Apple and Android app stores. The sheer size of the health-related app market is a wake-up call to healthcare companies as to what tools their patients / members / citizens want to manage their health proactively.


Posted by: Alex Stein
 
June 18, 2012
5:43 am

Alex, well written and I agree. This morning I just read the article about IBM having the world’s fastest computer. It can do in one hour what it took Billions of people hundreds of days to do with a calculator.

Every modern industry has caught up except for healthcare. I rarely if ever mail letters, I don’t take a horse to work, and last week took a tunnel train between Paris and London.

The question is why is healthcare so far behind?

We need to put this industry into the consumer market, let patients / consumers drive demand. Without analytics we don’t know outcomes, and without outcomes awareness we have no feedback loop, I.e. a rspinse to stimulus. The stimulus (and response) I refer to is not federal in nature but one we learn about in high school biology. Even a single cell organism harnesses real time environmental feedback for decision making.

The capacity from an IT side to rescue healthcare has been around for, arguably, 20 years. It is the lack of understanding of our poor performimg national system with low value that is gating this.

Cultural change, mostly throughnthe empowerment of consumers, will best drive change in a very conservative industry. In many ways just like a small handheld piece of glass with one button and a screen you can touch revolutionized communication and perhaps more daringly said, society.

One major stakeholder in society, and one that is organized (such as IBM), should stand up to be counted and say enough. Revolutionize your company’s healthcare through your combined brilliance and give us a clear proof point. Go sell a basic smartphone, methaphorically speaking.


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