From managing chronic conditions to enabling innovative insurance programs, the IoT is redefining healthcare.
Healthcare, unfortunately, is outdated. For the most part, doctors and patients have limited communication outside of short in-person office visits, and there is little to no quantifiable data from at-home monitoring that can inform these visits when they do happen. In an age marked by so much data in so many contexts—in which retailers know what their customers want to buy before the customers know themselves and private vehicles equipped with telematics devices can monitor driving behaviors and report back to insurance companies—it seems unfitting that the benefits of realtime data and data-driven analytics don’t currently apply to most healthcare scenarios.
This is not to say, however, that connected health is not a fast-growing sector of the IoT (Internet of Things), because it is. Research firm Technavio, www.technavio.com, did a market analysis that suggested the global connected health market size was $15.82 billion in 2015, with an expected target market size of $51.32 billion in 2020.
One factor driving the growth of the global connected health market is the aging global population. In general, humans live longer today than they did before. As a result, incidences of chronic conditions also tend to be higher than before. It is widely believed that connected IoT-enabled health devices and remote-monitoring solutions will be paramount to the future of chronic disease management and care.
The IoT is changing healthcare in many ways—not just in hospitals and doctors’ offices but also at home, between visits. Health data is changing how consumers think about their own healthcare, and, in the long run, health data will help shift healthcare to a more patient-centric model. Meanwhile, IoT devices are also changing how insurance companies underwrite policies and interact with their customers. These trends will ultimately lead to a reformation of healthcare; it’s a matter of when not if.
Managing Chronic Conditions
Marco Peluso, CEO of Qardio, www.getqardio.com, a provider of connected health devices, was driven to launch the company in 2012 with friend and cofounder Rosario Iannella after Peluso’s father suffered a stroke. Peluso and Iannella recognized a need in the healthcare space for personal health monitoring devices and technologies that were not only well designed but also easy to use.
“Unlike other industries, healthcare hasn’t seen innovation in decades,” Peluso says. “Doctors and their patients are still using outdated, burdensome devices that provide limited communication between them and (a) poor experience to the users who lose motivation to monitor health long term.”
Connected health device providers and digital health companies are working to change this by offering innovative new technologies that provide easier, better, and more cost-effective ways to monitor health. Going forward, preventative care is the name of the game in healthcare. Devices that can proactively monitor a person’s health on an everyday basis, for instance, puts patients in better control of their own health, which can potentially reduce unnecessary doctor visits and prevent lengthy hospital stays that sometimes result from reactive care.
For patients with chronic conditions in particular, connected devices and remote-monitoring systems are opening doors for new types of long-term care. “With about one in three adults living with a chronic condition, it is important they have access to convenient care,” Peluso says. “Without new technology adoption in the healthcare industry, the much needed shift to preventative care will not be possible.”
Qardio offers devices such as QardioArm, a smart blood pressure monitor; QardioBase, a smart scale and body analyzer; and QardioCore, a wearable ECG (electrocardiogram) monitor that allows users to track their own heart health outside the doctor’s office. To really make a dent in the status quo, health devices mustn’t just be easy for consumers to use; the data must also be easy for doctors to manage. In Qardio’s case, doctors can track their patients’ data recorded at home via the QardioMD platform.
According to Waqaas Al-Siddiq, founder and CEO of Biotricity, www.biotricity.com, a provider of personal remote medical monitoring technology, the IoT is enabling connectivity that is accelerating the role of Big Data in healthcare. In the future, he says we’ll see a shift toward remote monitoring as well as population health improvement and data mining to identify areas that require attention.
“(The) IoT is enabling across-the-board connectivity to the cloud from healthcare devices, thereby allowing hospitals and care organizations to quantify and analyze aspects of the care process that previously were impossible,” Al-Siddiq explains. “For example, if all intake devices in the ER (emergency room) are connected, you might be able to see that 60% of the patients admitted that day have cardiac issues. That would lead you to automatically page an extra cardiologist who is on call. These types of data-driven triggers are and will continue to streamline both healthcare and care delivery.”
Al-Siddiq recognizes two areas of healthcare in which the IoT is making an impact: diagnostics and post-diagnostic/care management. “In the first, I believe more and more hospital equipment will become connected, driving better data and creating auto triggers and auto ‘if-then’ scenarios,” he explains. “This will ultimately improve healthcare processes, overall efficiency, and accelerate care delivery.”
Regarding post-diagnostic and care management scenarios, Al-Siddiq says two categories of IoT healthcare devices will be created—IoT-connected, medically relevant devices and IoT-connected lifestyle devices. “The former will be used by individuals for chronic care management, where the physician would be open to consuming summary reports off of these devices,” he says. “The latter type of devices will be focused towards healthy individuals and more centered around achieving/maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Such devices would be for personal use and there would be little to no interest from the physician. Accordingly, the patient and physician would not interact around this data.”
Beyond patients and doctors, however, another vested party may prove interested in the health data collected from IoT-connected lifestyle devices, as well as devices designed to manage chronic conditions: insurance companies. In fact, any insurance company with a read on the market’s pulse should be coming up with ways right now to leverage connected devices to engage individuals in their own health management, which can ultimately reduce costs for everyone.
IoT’s Impact on Insurance
Brooks Tingle, senior vice president of marketing and strategy for John Hancock Insurance, www.johnhancock.com, a provider of life insurance, says the IoT holds enormous potential for the insurance industry. “Greater access to information through wearable devices and apps provides a significant opportunity to serve customers better by offering more personalized service and greater value,” Tingle says. “For example, customers can get better and realtime insights into how they are managing their own health risks, which helps them to take more control and change their behaviors, with the goal of living longer and healthier lives. Likewise, this data enables carriers to assess risks more accurately, and that allows us to provide participating customers with premium savings and rewards.”
A third benefit, Tingle points out, is societal—the aggregated health data collected by IoT health devices can help uncover behavioral and statistical insights on health promotion and chronic disease prevention that can advance the science of health and wellbeing. For insurance companies that traditionally offer buy-it-and-forget-it types of products, IoT devices often encourage more frequent engagement with their customers.
“The traditional life insurance ownership experience includes a one-time interaction up front when you’re applying for a policy, and then after that you might get one or two notices a year from your insurance carrier,” Tingle says. “When you connect a healthy living/wellness program to life insurance using the IoT … the contact can be as frequent as daily when our customers are participating in healthy living activities, such as walking, working out, or purchasing healthy food at the grocery store.”
John Hancock’s Vitality life insurance program, introduced in April 2015, is a great example of how this works. The program gives customers the opportunity to save on their premiums and earn valuable rewards and discounts simply by living a healthy life. Tingle says the program, which leverages wearable devices from Fitbit, Garmin, and Apple, offers participants premium savings up to 15% and rewards and discounts from major brands, such as Amazon, Hyatt, and REI, when they engage in everyday healthy activities such as exercising, buying healthy groceries, and getting annual checkups.
Vitality program customers’ activities are automatically recorded through any number of wearable devices that integrate with the program’s iPhone app and grocery store rewards programs. John Hancock customers find it both easy and fun to participate. “There are so many benefits for the customer, the insurance carrier, and society at large by offering this kind of IoT-linked life insurance that rewards healthy living that I would be surprised if most life insurance isn’t written this way in five years,” adds Tingle.
Another innovative insurance program that leverages connected devices to create personalized, affordable plans is from Beam Dental, http://beam.dental, which offers customers a Bluetooth-enabled toothbrush that, when paired with the Beam Brush app, keeps track of a customer’s brushing habits. Integrated in premiums are the costs of the Beam Brush, along with replacement heads, toothpaste, and floss.
Alex Frommeyer, cofounder and CEO of Beam Dental, says, “Not only is this a great member benefit and a sophisticated integration of wellness in an insurance plan, but it’s also a therapy. So, we aren’t just capturing behavior like the Progressive Snapshot does with driving habits; we are actually changing that behavior, which has a direct health impact.”
For better or for worse, Frommeyer believes insurance companies have a massive amount of influence over their industries. As such, he says it is reasonable to expect that insurers will look to create consumer experiences that are designed to lower premiums and/or deductibles so healthcare can be accessible and affordable.
“In my opinion, one of the most present opportunities is taking the new data produced by IoT products and gleaning insights to better understand and manage risk. At Beam Dental, we consider a member’s hygiene characteristics in underwriting,” Frommeyer says. “Simply put, we know that if you are brushing your teeth every day, you are less likely to be going to the dentist needing four root canals. Our understanding of risk helps us price policies more specifically, which translates into savings for our members. We are one of the earliest examples of a truly integrated IoT insurance experience in the healthcare space, but I think we will see more.”
“There are so many benefits for the customer, the insurance carrier, and society at large by offering this kind of IoT-linked life insurance that rewards healthy living that I would be surprised if most life insurance isn’t written this way in five years.” —Brooks Tingle, John Hancock Insurance
And while technology isn’t a magic bullet that will solve all healthcare and insurance woes, it could certainly go a long way toward reforming the healthcare system. Devices can limit the need for unnecessary checkup appointments, thereby freeing up doctors’ or dentists’ time to focus on those who need the attention most. Access to at-home monitoring devices could help people self-identify health issues earlier, which can translate to cheaper treatments and better patient outcomes. Better patient outcomes lower cost and risk for insurers, as well as patients and doctors.
Biotricity’s Al-Siddiq says: “I believe we are at a precipice in healthcare where we need to truly rethink healthcare delivery and individual engagement or risk costs spiraling completely out of control. Though this is cause for concern, it is also an exciting time to be in the healthcare market.”
Bethanie Hestermann is an editor-at-large for Connected World magazine.