Patient Experience and the Internet of Things

How can instrumented, interconnected and intelligent devices dramatically improve patient experience and business value?



There are a growing number of smart devices being manufactured to achieve different purposes for various industries, including pharma and healthcare. However, the benefit of this increasing number of smart devices can’t be optimized if pharma organizations and patients can't use them to make better and smarter real-life decisions.

The IBM Institute has a vision wherein devices and sensors are used to link the physical world with the Internet, referred to as the Internet of Things (IoT). Andy Stanford-Clark, Master Inventor at IBM, created a machine-to-machine communication technology called MQ Telemetry Transport (MQTT) that enables sensors from different devices to quickly and affordably gather and integrate data, allowing companies to make actionable insights. With MQTT recently being accepted as an industry standard protocol, the vision for a well-established IoT is becoming increasingly possible.

According to Stanford-Clark, “The quintessence of the Internet of Things is doing something better for your customers so that they have a better experience, you gain competitive advantage and you can deliver your service more effectively.” During his talk at The Digital Conference 2015, Stanford-Clark cited the example of a ferry company for which he adopted IoT by using the automatic identification system (AIS) of every vessel and linked them to Twitter to provide real-time useful information about boat status, location and schedule. This integrated system continues to help commuters to make convenient and well-informed travel decisions. “This has given them significant competitive advantage,” says Stanford-Clark about the ferry company.

So, how can the IoT be applied to the pharmaceutical industry? IoT has three characteristics, namely: Instrumented, Interconnected, and Intelligent (also known as the 3 I’s). By being instrumented, pharma can develop or make use of existing devices to gather data. By being interconnected, pharma can integrate data that devices have individually gathered through the Internet. Finally, by being intelligent, pharma can use analytics programs to make sense of the large amount of integrated data and develop and enact recommendations that allow them to provide better customer service. With the adoption of the 3 I’s, companies can achieve rapid transmission of data, which can make them aware of problems sooner and enable them to deliver targeted solutions faster.

The potential for partnership between IoT and pharma

The interaction between the IoT and healthcare is a major area for growth that can improve patient experience, as has been recognized by the IBM Institute. The organization has created a key position dedicated to studying and developing strategies specifically for this purpose.

Heather Fraser is the Global Leader for Healthcare and Life Sciences at IBM's Institute for Business Value. Fraser’s recent studies have investigated the future of the life sciences industry and the implications across the value chain that includes the ecosystems, alliances and convergence across the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries. From her studies, she has observed that, “Traditional industry boundaries are blurring, fueling a need for new ecosystems and partnerships. This is particularly true in the healthcare area where healthcare payers, healthcare providers and life sciences companies are all key members of the evolving healthcare ecosystem”.

The partnership between IoT and pharma carries a large amount of potential business value by improving customer service. It can enable a treatment solution that is targeted to the needs of the individual patient. “Life sciences companies are becoming  more involved in a patient's care than ever before, often moving 'beyond the pill' to providing a targeted treatment solution which includes diagnostics, monitoring as well as wraparound services such as dietary or exercise advice for diabetics,” Fraser explains.

Fraser explains that instead of coming by at regular intervals to check the patient’s vital signs, healthcare professionals can use IoT to stream and monitor data continuously, predict changes in the patient’s condition more accurately, and make necessary interventions more quickly. The same IoT devices could be utilized to monitor medication uptake and even side-effects.

Fraser goes on to say that these technological advances, which supply crucial and immediate information also grant patients more convenience, lower cost of care and better control of their conditions through remote health monitoring. Critically ill and premature infants in the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, for example, can be constantly monitored using IoT-driven and non-invasive monitoring systems.

Fraser explains that instead of coming by at regular intervals to check the patient’s vital signs, healthcare professionals can use IoT to stream and monitor data continuously, predict changes in the patient’s condition more accurately, and make necessary interventions more quickly. The same IoT devices could be utilized to monitor medication uptake and even side-effects.

Remote health monitoring also allows patients such as the elderly to remain in the safety and comfort of their homes. Through telehealth, vital signs monitors can be linked to digital alert systems that prompt physicians if any measure moves outside of the set parameters. Fraser says that telehealth can involve video consultations with physicians or it could be as simple as using a bathroom scale and calling in daily readings via the telephone.

The three I’s in pharma patient experience

The three I’s – Instrumented, Interconnected and Intelligent – each contribute to the improvement of patient experience in pharma.

Instrumented. Fraser explains that devices are now increasingly able to capture information automatically. They can measure, sense and record the exact health condition of the patient and recognize any physical changes. “They can immediately capture biological and genomic traits to identify safe and effective treatments for the individual,” says Fraser. Medical devices can also monitor patient compliance and persistence using pervasive technologies. “These have potential to provide valuable information about an individual’s health status and ability to successfully perform activities of daily living,” advises Fraser. 

Additionally, instruments improve patient experience because they can be designed to monitor without bothering the patient. They can function passively in the background or actively in the foreground. They can also leverage imaging to provide non-invasive diagnosis. Fraser notes that small and invasive medical devices can be serialized so that they can be monitored within the patient’s body automatically.

Interconnected. There is a wealth of data captured by mobile and home devices. Fraser believes that when this data is shared with other devices and with healthcare professionals, including pharma, the value of the total information exponentially increases. “A variety of wireless technologies removes the information barriers so that the data can be integrated with other data,” says Fraser.

Interconnected medical devices can improve customer service by allowing efficient information sharing among healthcare members including patients, physicians, pharma companies, academic researchers, and regulators. It can also enable product location and pedigree identification among medical products to prevent counterfeiting. Fraser adds that sharing data can foster collaborative work in clinical development, bringing critical drugs to the market faster.

Intelligent. Healthcare instruments are becoming increasingly intelligent and medical devices can now provide more detailed knowledge of diseases, treatment targets and biomarkers. According to Fraser, “Devices have enhanced computing power. Combined with advanced analytics, they can turn mountains of health data into intelligence, providing insights and recommendations.” These insights are useful both to the healthcare companies and to the patient.

For the healthcare companies and pharma, intelligent devices allow analysis of clinical data across treatments and therapeutic areas. This can allow them to avoid costly late-stage failures by identifying areas of risk and regulatory compliance exposure and predicting development successes. It can also provide insight for market segmentation that can optimize marketing investments and achieve target sales.

For patients, analytics programs can provide recommendations by monitoring device data and comparing them against established health targets. “That intelligence can inform consumers of what actions they need to take and send alerts when required even before critical things happen,” explains Fraser.

The state of IoT within pharma today

According to Fraser, “Today, the adoption of IoT in healthcare is relatively poor.” However, she notes that there is significant potential for growth. “Key areas for growth include medical data transmission and patient monitoring.”

For medical data transmission, one of the major challenges is connecting the large pools of information recorded through more traditional sources such as doctor-created medical records, clinical research and individual genomes with data produced by intelligent medical devices. Fraser explains that achieving this connection will enable timely and evidence-based health decision-making. She shares that IBM Watson Health is currently working in partnership with Apple, Johnson & Johnson and Medtronic to bring this undertaking closer to reality.

Despite the benefits of IoT to patient experience, Fraser acknowledges the widespread concern when it comes to the security, privacy and ownership of healthcare data. A recent study conducted by the IBM institute for Business Value noted that there are over ten billion intelligent and connected devices in the world, and that number is certain to grow from billions to hundreds of billions in coming years. The authors state that, “…the dream of a smart, safe and efficient future is threatened by subscription fees, ubiquitous advertising and intrusive surveillance.”

In order to optimize the partnership between IoT and pharma, provide improved patient experience, and effectively scale growth in the number of devices in the near future, the study suggests that executives rethink their current strategies and business models for technology and redesign them to be low cost and private-by-design, as well as to provide better value to patients and health enterprises.

Changes in partnerships between members of the healthcare supply chain are taking place. With the growing number of people and enterprises that are utilizing smart devices, there is a large opportunity in the interaction between the Internet of Things and pharma in terms of value and patient experience. The adoption of IoT in the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries have made companies more aware of problems sooner, which allows them to deliver solutions to patients wherever they are. If more pharma companies can successfully incorporate IoT into the personal treatment of patients, they can greatly improve patient experience on an individual level while also enhancing the quality of customer service on an industry level.


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