The industry has reached the point of no return: Health care’s gone digital. Technological devices such as health wearables have become a commonplace way to track everything from physical activity to blood pressure.
Taken together, these devices are known as the internet of things (IoT), which refers to the wirelessly connected, chip-enabled devices that can collect, share and receive data. Experts foresee the potential for IoT in health care to efficiently improve clinical outcomes for patients. How? At least in part by fueling the industry’s adoption of value-based care models, which pay providers based on the cost and quality, or value, of their work.
Tech in Value-Based Care: The Role of IoT
When the digital capabilities of IoT devices combine with sensors, these devices can gather real-time data on people’s health, such as heart rate, weight, steps and sleep patterns.
Going a step further, integrating biometric data with other information — such as a patient’s list of medical problems — and applying sophisticated digital tools to analyze the data lets providers continually track which treatments are most effective and learn how to personalize those therapies for each patient. The end result is faster, more accurate diagnosis and treatment, which in turn improves clinical outcomes.
And because these devices produce data almost nonstop, providers can also monitor how patients are maintaining their health outside of a medical setting. Even when the patients are at home, providers can see data in real time and fine-tune medications or other treatments as necessary. For example, the information sourced from wirelessly connected digital scales and blood pressure cuffs may help doctors figure out when a patient with congestive heart failure shows signs of worsening symptoms. Quick action to reverse deterioration in a patient’s health can avoid a costly hospital readmission later on.
Providing better clinical outcomes more efficiently is at the core of value-based care models. These interconnected devices could become powerful tools for streamlining care and encouraging providers to adopt a value-based approach to how they deliver health care services.
How IoT in Health Care Engages Consumers
It’s common to use multiple apps, trackers and wearables in conjunction to track biometric data. However, consumers who do this may find it challenging to interpret information from multiple sources.
It may seem odd that the solution would be another app, but it works — MyCarolinas Tracker, launched by Atrium Health, helps patients manage and act on their personal health information. The app integrates and analyzes data from various mobile devices, such as fitness trackers, heart rate monitors, blood glucose meters and scales to give users an accurate overall picture of their health. Patients can also see their integrated data on dashboards, making it easy for people to track indicators of their health status over time.
This data is also stored in the electronic patient portal that Atrium uses to share information with its patients. It is not integrated into the overall electronic medical record that providers use, but Atrium says patients can share the information with their providers.
Better Health Data Improves Treatments
Data from these devices can inform health decisions for single individuals or large groups of patients. Take Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, which used Fitbit wristbands to learn how to improve the quality of life for patients with advanced cancer. Researchers analyzed tracking data from 37 patients in combination with information from patients about their symptoms, such as pain and fatigue. They found that increases in daily steps were associated with lower rates of complications, fewer hospitalizations and a higher chance of survival.
The Potential of Blockchain
The sheer number of devices and the volume of data that they produce over time makes it challenging to secure and process patients’ private medical information.
Blockchain is one possible solution.
In blockchain, data is stored throughout a network of computers rather than on a centralized database. Each transaction is stored in a block and linked together in a chain. Each block has a unique hash — a sequence of letters and numbers, which is also related to the previous block in the chain. This process provides an ongoing chronology of all the transactions.
The relationship between the hash from one block and the hash from the previous block helps secure the transactions from hackers, because the blocks can’t be altered without detection.
And blockchain can process transactions among countless connected devices must faster than a centralized system can.
Many types of tech in health care target better clinical outcomes. However, the sheer amount of real-time data that interconnected digital devices produce — as well as the innovative ways providers have used that data to patients’ benefit — makes them a particularly promising player in the drive to adopt value-based care and improve outcomes.