Could IoT sustain the NHS?

By James Norman, Public Sector CIO at EMC

The Internet of Things (IoT) is slowly becoming the new telemedicine. Just a few months ago it was announced that the NHS introduced some new major trials to improve patient care. At the World Economic Forum, NHS England Chief Executive, Simon Stevens, pronounced the launch of the first wave of NHS Innovation ‘Test Beds.’ These are collaborative projects between the NHS and other service providers, to address some of the issues facing patients and the health service by harnessing technology – specifically IoT.

Previously, the introduction to telemedicine helped enforce remote healthcare. Now IoT is set to revolutionise the healthcare industry providing a new approach to self-care in order to help shrink the current strain on the NHS and help with the UK’s aging population.

According to a recent study by MarketResearch, IoT deployments in healthcare are set to reach £81.6 billion by 2020. Wearable devices are able to collect and send patient data to doctors in real-time and sensors will be able to monitor things like whether a hospital bed is free or occupied to help improve hospital efficiencies – creating the view of a hyper-connected patient. The device is simply a new way to capture real-time data in a convenient manner for the patient. What’s key – and what will make an impact – is what then happens with the data captured.

In light of recent technological developments, the NHS is trialling two Internet of Things Test Beds which are part of IoTUK, an integrated £40 million, three-year Government programme that seeks to advance the UK’s global leadership in IoT. The two Test Beds include:

  • Diabetes Digital Coach – Bringing together mobile health self-management tools (wearable sensors) with the latest developments in IoT monitoring devices, the Test Bed will enable people with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes to self-manage their condition. It will also encourage more timely and appropriate interventions from peers, healthcare professionals, carers and social networks.
  • Technology Integrated Health Management – Individuals with dementia and their carers will be provided with sensors, wearables, monitors and other devices, which will combine to monitor their health at home. This will empower people to take more control over their own health and wellbeing, as well as enabling health and social care staff to deliver more responsive and effective services.

Both Test Beds would not be able to operate without the move towards self-care. Self-care will not only improve general health of the population and help provide personalised medicine but also reduce the current strain on the NHS. By monitoring weight, people can help avoid the risk of diabetes (already costing almost one-tenth of the NHS budget), heart disease and injuries caused by the extra stress on joints. As citizens begin to realise the benefits that wearables have to offer, and as wearable devices become more stylish and offer more functionality, the barrier to adoption will be broken down.

Better use of data and content across the different devices will drive a more integrated approach, with the aim to eventually help where possible to predict what intervention may be required.  Whilst not all wearables are approved for medical use, they all have a part to play in driving the Wellness Model approach – one that requires a proactive, personalised mind-set, not a reactive “illness-driven” health industry. This can only be achieved through collaboration and sharing data effectively.

This can also impact other industries in helping the UK introduce the concept of smart cities. Through the data collected from sensors and devices, hospitals can start automating processes, linking GPs and other medical practitioners together, along with suppliers and technicians. By having a clear picture of patients and their medical history, more patients can be treated at home through remote monitoring, reducing pressure on hospitals. This can also help to improve visits from mid-wives and community nurses as they can use data to identify if visits are required and how often.

It’s great to see that the Department of Health is putting the NHS at the forefront of innovation. This is certainly a step in the right direction and it will be great to see over the next few years how IoT has had an impact on healthcare – not only in cutting costs and improving processes and efficiencies, but also the end result on patient care. The impact from IoT could certainly help sustain the future of the UK’s universal healthcare system.


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