By Michael Walker
You can hardly go a day without hearing or reading about new technologies that are changing our world: Internet of Things, blockchain, adaptive intelligence, and machine learning. Do they have a role in healthcare? They do. In fact, they have the power to reshape patient care and organizational operations dramatically. And while each one can have an impact on its own, they become even bigger game-changers when combined.
We’re surrounded today by the Internet of Things. Sensors gathering real-time data from manufacturing equipment, smart appliances in our homes, and wearable fitness devices are just a few examples. Now there’s another term, the Internet of Healthcare Things (IoHT). IoHT connects all devices and applications to healthcare IT systems. They can be used in clinical settings as well as support operations.
Frost and Sullivan predicts as many as 30 billion IoHT devices by 2020.
One area where IoHT is being applied is remote patient monitoring. Clinicians can use sensors to monitor the vital signs of recently discharged patients and help catch complications early, reducing risk and hospital readmissions. Devices can also be used to help patients self-monitor and self-manage disease or to remember to take their prescription medications on schedule, putting patients more in control of their own health and improving their outcomes.
These same sensors can be used for clinical trials. Oracle has been involved in providing the technology behind some of these Class II remote patient monitoring devices. Oracle Health Science mHealth Connector Cloud Service can acquire and transmit remote monitoring device data to get real-time views of patient status and progress. On the operations side, mobile medical equipment traceability is one area where IoHT can help identify, in real time, what equipment is being used and where. This information can help reduce costs through more efficient mobile medical device utilization. That is, resources can be identified, located, and moved to where they are needed quickly.
Studies have found that average mobile device utilization rates are as low as 42%.
IoHT can also be used to monitor expensive medical equipment such as MRI machines to plan and perform scheduled maintenance and detect problems early so they can be fixed before disrupting operations. In overall hospital facilities management, IoT can be used to monitor, analyze, and understand what’s happening throughout the facility, including HVAC, security systems, elevators, and more.
These are just a few examples of how IoHT is already changing healthcare. What about blockchain?
While the buzz around cryptocurrencies can make blockchain technology seem somewhat mysterious and glamorous, it’s nothing more than a distributed-ledger technology in which transactions are recorded in a “chain” that can be shared among members of a network. The data can be written and read, but they can’t be edited—meaning records can’t be changed once they’re recorded. As blockchain expert Mark van Rijmenam describes it, the data in a blockchain is immutable, verifiable, and traceable. The end result is that everyone in the network has access to this “single source of truth.”
What does this mean for the healthcare industry? The possibilities are enormous. It could streamline the claims process or speed the medical insurance enrollment process.
When combined with IoHT, blockchain can be used to trace medical devices and pharmaceuticals from raw material through final destination. This traceability can provide information about the authenticity of a product, if it is damaged during transport, or whether it has been exposed to extreme environmental conditions or careless handling that might erode its efficacy—for example, with pharmaceuticals. Having this information early can also expedite a recall and keep faulty or harmful products out of the supply chain.
Since blockchain eliminates the need for a “middleman,” it can help promote faster and more efficient employee credentialing by verifying caregiver records or make use of smart contracts that include pre-authorizations between payers and providers.
And that’s just the start.
Adaptive intelligence and machine learning are disruptive technologies that have the ability to consolidate the enormous quantities of patient data being generated by electronic medical records (EMR), monitoring devices, medical imaging, and other sources to gain a deeper understanding and view of patient populations, outcomes, and costs. These more advanced AI/ML capabilities that are available today can help with early diagnosis of disease; improvement of prescribing effectiveness; and identification of fraud, security threats, and population risk.
The insights available by applying AI and ML to medical data can pair up appropriate subjects with clinical trials to increase the chances of success as well as to reduce readmission rates and lower healthcare costs. Chatbots are another form of AI and can help further process improvement by automating tasks that used to fall on humans.
Researchers at Methodist Research Institute in Houston, Texas, have developed AI software that can predict breast cancer risk 30 times faster than a human physician and with 99% accuracy.
In a recent Forbes article, Oracle Senior Vice President for Converged Infrastructure Chuck Hollis gives an example of routine healthcare in the future. Wearing a smart sensor would allow healthcare providers to monitor medication intake. AI applications could alert patients to a problem with blood pressure or sugar levels, or even remind them to take their medications. Healthcare records could easily be shared among providers. And everything could be verified and protected using blockchain technology.
All of these advanced technologies would be supported by infrastructure designed to maximize their value and performance, like fully integrated engineered systems. With the right technology built on a solid foundation, the prognosis for the healthcare industry is excellent.
Michael Walker is the Oracle Industry Solutions Group global lead for Healthcare and Life Sciences. He has more than 25 years of experience across healthcare, medical devices, biopharmaceuticals, and clinical research.