Internet of Things



IoT – Innovation of Times to come for Indian Healthcare?

Nimisha Singh Verma is Healthcare IT consultant. She brings with her experience of various esteemed healthcare organizations Optum, Religare Technologies and tertiary care hospitals. Authored chapter on Indovation in Innovations in Healthcare Management: Cost Effective and Sustainable Solutions book published in US.

IoT is an evolving technology and has a promising future for Indian healthcare. Author shares how this technology blends with the healthcare needs to provide a boosting platform for the users.

Internet of Things (IoT) is rapidly becoming a buzzword in the healthcare industry. IoT refers to machine-to-machine (M2M) technology enabled by secure network connectivity and cloud infrastructure, to reliably transform data into useful information for people, businesses, and institutions.[1] The concept of IoT is often confused with M2M communication. The difference is that M2M relies on point-to-point communication using embedded hardware modules and either cellular or wired networks. In contrast, IoT solutions rely on IP-based networks to interface device data to a cloud or middleware platform.[2] IoT is a broader concept and has greater potential than the traditional M2M because it is more scalable and has the ability to integrate a wider range of devices, wireless systems such as sensors, RFID, wearables and applications. IoT also provides ability to apply analytics and process big data to improve business processes rather than point-to-point communication as in case of M2M. Various industries, which are harnessing IoT solutions, are healthcare, agriculture and transportation. Worldwide Healthcare IoT market segment is poised to grow from $32.47 billion in 2015 to $163.24 billion by 2020 according to a report.[3] 

The various applications of IoT range from remote monitoring, chronic disease management, medication management, patient self-management, workflow or operations management. It not only proves to be useful in managing health but also in disease prevention and wellness promotion. Healthcare ecosystem can benefit from IoT application in terms of improved medical outcomes, better quality of life and lower health cost.

Indian healthcare can revolutionize by leveraging IoT technology as India has the perfect mix of its own challenges and advantages. Indian healthcare has huge demand for primary healthcare and there is a dearth of medical resources. The other challenges are lack of medical equipment to diagnose and monitor patients in rural or remotes areas. On the other hand, digital market is growing drastically in India making it the third largest base of Internet users in the world with more than 300 million users.[4] The concept of IoT is not new but has been gaining momentum lately in India. Following are the reasons for the accelerating growth and penetration of IoT enabled solutions in India –

• Rise in patient engagement for self-health management/wellness

• Proliferation of mobile apps

• Decline in the cost of sensors

• Influx of interconnected health devices

• Initiatives undertaken by the Indian Government

Government of India’s Department of Electronics and Information Technology and the Ministry of Urban Development collaborated to release the first IoT policy framework proposal for India in 2014 as a part of the Digital India vision. As per this policy, the government envisages to create a USD 15 billion market by 2020 in India, impacting growth of connected devices from 200 million to 2.7 billion.[5] Also, over 180 startups are currently working on IoT solutions in India.[6]

Advantages of IoT:

1. The rural-urban divide and diverse terrains make it difficult to treat patients in India. So, remote monitoring is one of the advantages that IoT holds for Indian providers.

2. Tracking patient movement and vitals with the help of various wearable devices.

3. Predicting various patterns with the help of IoT system is a great promise for the providers as it would prepare them well in advance. For example: disease surveillance and predicting patient arrival will help providers to serve the population efficiently and proactively.

4. Hand hygiene compliance is also one area being explored by IoT developers to reduce the hospital-acquired infection rates.

5. Supply chain, equipment maintenance and tracking can be applied with the help of IoT for better operations management.

6. The concept of Smart hospitals with intelligent infrastructure such as energy efficient setup can be achieved with IoT and will lead to operations optimization.

All in all, this will help in enhancing patient experience. The role of physicians/hospitals should be to motivate patients to get engaged in their health using technology. Technology startups in Healthcare are exploring market at the fullest, following are the few examples:

• Startups such as Cooey, are venturing into the needs of Indian population by offering smart blood pressure monitor, smart body analyzer and smart glucometer that empower chronically ill patients in managing their health better. This IoT platform enables users to collect, store, analyze and share their health data with the doctor and family members.

• Other startups such as GOQii are offering smart wristband with personalized coaching by health experts and gamification for healthy lifestyle management. It also rewards users for meeting personal health goals.

• Another example is LeChal, an interactive haptic footwear conceptualized to help the visually impaired to navigate their way. It comes with an app where user feeds in their destination and the GPS enabled footwear directs user by making the shoe vibrate.

• Diabeto, another startup, is a complete diabetes management system which consists of non-intrusive Bluetooth-powered accessible hardware device that transfers the blood glucose levels from the glucometer to smartphone app, web app or pebble watch.

Apart from the known standardization and the data security issues, there are a number of challenges that prevent India from becoming a country of IoT. Issues such as consistent Internet connectivity, bandwidth issues, relatively low consumer awareness, high cost associated with IoT devices and infrastructure. To make IoT work and mature for India, companies should think of disruptive and innovative business models rather than adopting solutions from developed markets, for example, redesigning pricing model of IoT devices so that technology is accessible to all. Data privacy and security issues can be addressed by collaborating with regulatory bodies and develop a more secure design.

Now, the question arises is IoT – an innovation of times to come for Indian healthcare or is it ripe enough to be taken advantage of. The concept is not new but there is much more to come. The examples illustrated above clearly represent that IoT revolution is transforming slowly in the Indian healthcare sector. A number of more matured use cases/pilots need to be demonstrated for sustained growth of IoT ecosystem. IoT is here to stay and will be a win-win situation when all the stakeholders work collaboratively and fine-tune their strategies for the Indian market. The government initiative in creating a IoT policy framework proposal clearly acts as a catalyst to the maturity of IoT ecosystem and hoping that the IoT infrastructure will be well-placed in the next few years.

The latest traction worldwide on Chatbots in the communication industry can act as an interface to communicate and manage the IoT devices. Chatbots are automated agents, which stimulate conversation using machine learning and artificial intelligence in mobile messaging apps. It is not a new concept as ELIZA (in 1966) was designed to interact with patients. Chatbots have an edge over mobile apps as no downloads are required and they are less space consuming. One of the examples of healthcare Chatbot is Florence from Viget, which aids in improving medication adherence.

Another illustration is health coach Sam mentioned in Dr Kvedar’s book, “The Internet of Healthy Things”. It is a chatbot on iMessage app, which gives a holistic view of the user’s health and provides insights as to how to maintain a healthy lifestyle by using data from various connected devices. Chatbots can be the new way to engage and communicate with patients in India as around 130 million population is on messaging apps.[7] Chatbots with IoT integration can be the next big thing for the Indian market!

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