For some time now we have been talking about the importance of improving our infrastructure in America. We’ve stressed the importance of why our crumbling roads and bridges need to be rebuilt and that deploying sensors can help keep track of a structure’s condition. We’ve even explored in great detail how IoT solutions need to be deployed to solve infrastructure issues such as traffic and congestion, parking in cities, smart cities, utilities, sustainability, and to open doors for the next generation of connected, autonomous vehicles.
What we haven’t really explored up to this point is how we need to think about healthcare and connecting it to our overarching infrastructure. But the fact is you can’t talk about connecting our infrastructure without looking at connected health because it is one of those markets that has so much potential but faces some tough hurdles, such as FDA (Food and Drug Admin.) and other government regulation.
Connected health devices and systems are, in general, held to higher standards when it comes to:
- Designing a user experience;
- Making sure the devices themselves are both safe and affordable;
- Ensuring the data that’s being collected and transferred is secure;
- And ensuring this data is helpful and actionable to patients, healthcare providers, or—ideally—both.
The healthcare space is anticipated to grow significantly in the next several years, which is nothing new.
For instance, research firm Technavio, www.technavio.com, suggests the global connected health market size will exceed $51 billion by 2020. That’s up from a little less than $16 billion in 2015.
Connected health technologies that rely on access to wireless connectivity is a big part of this expected growth—not just in the U.S., but also across the globe.
One key trend that is going to rely on a strong communications infrastructure is remote monitoring and home care. There is a big change brewing in healthcare.
We’re transitioning from a system that relies on clinic and hospital-based treatments to a system that relies more on connectivity to provide services such as remote patient monitoring, virtual visits, and so on.
Interestingly, Technavio also suggests that a shortage of experienced medical personnel has led—and will continue—to lead to the development of the concept of virtual nurses.
Depending on how you define “virtual nurses,” this could potentially incorporate AI (artificial intelligence) and advanced machine learning. A virtual nurse may actually be a machine equipped with AI that could respond to patients’ biometric data and suggest treatment options.
Before we get to this point, though, virtual visits that bring human doctors to patients’ living rooms will become more commonplace. This can potentially bring healthcare to more people in more places, but this is only true if those people and those places have access to the technology they need to be a part of those visits.
In other words, they need devices and an adequate communications infrastructure. It’s a similar story for remote monitoring.
To become more widespread, healthcare providers must secure backend infrastructures in place to be able to receive data from monitoring devices and then analyze it, so the data becomes meaningful. And this is really what I’m referencing when I say “healthcare infrastructure.” Infrastructure is not just roads and bridges and traffic signals, although these systems obviously play a big role in emergency healthcare.
Rather, it’s a city’s ICT (information and communications technology) backbone, which helps distribute healthcare resources and expertise to where they’re needed. A city’s ICT backbone, alongside physical healthcare facilities and trained medical professionals, makes up a city’s healthcare infrastructure.
Even a study from Research and Markets says growth for global sensors in IoT devices will climb from 2016 to 2022 and one of the key markets is healthcare. The report indicates the market for sensors in IoT devices in general will grow at a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 26.91% during the same period. When breaking down growth in terms of application segment, Research and Market’s report projects that healthcare will dominate during the forecast period.
Thus, think of it this way, biosensors embedded in all kinds of devices will become increasingly normal. These sensors will not only enable remote monitoring, but also consumer health applications that have less to do with diagnosis and treatment and more to do with proactive health monitoring on the part of the individual.
This latter category of connected-health applications is growing rapidly, and it will help drive the demand for biometric and other sensors that can collect health-related data.
In hospital environments, the number of health sensors is also growing, and continued growth will depend on the ability of facilities’ IT infrastructure to keep up with demand.
Let’s not underestimate how many devices we’re talking about when we consider a truly connected hospital. This could potentially be thousands of devices talking to each other and transmitting incredibly critical data.
Infrastructure reliability in a case like this is nothing short of life-critical. In a connected hospital environment of the future, sensors will need to speak the same language so data can be read and used no matter what device it’s coming from.
So, on both a macro scale, in terms of a city or region’s ICT infrastructure, and on a micro scale, in terms of a hospital network, infrastructure is a big part of the connected healthcare discussion.
And when it comes to having a smart city, being able to offer citizens connected health services should be right up at the top of the priorities list. One point to remember is that our population is aging; chronic conditions are more prevalent in today’s society than ever before.
Investing in the types of infrastructure necessary to support connected health devices and systems is an investment in the future health of the population. While healthcare might not be the easiest sector to innovate in because of the high stakes and the strict rules, it is by far one of the most important when we consider we are talking about priorities and people’s lives. So we just might want to get this right.
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