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If the future of health care is digital, the vital signs are looking good

2 November 2017

A 2015 study by McKinsey & Co estimated that the economic effect of Internet of Things on the global health care industry will range from 170 billion to 1.1 trillion USD a year over the course of the next decade. Many companies are betting big on this trend. Investment in health care businesses around the world increased substantially last year. Asia Pacific alone saw 4.9 billion USD of private investment, bringing nearly 1 billion USD additional capital into the region; nearly double that of 2014, according to Bain & Co in early 2016.

These are big numbers to talk about, but what do they really mean when it comes to the impact of technology on health care? Let’s look at just a few of the health care breakthroughs digital technology brought in the past few years.

Hospitals at the cutting edge

Hospitals are using smart chips, Radio Frequency Identification tags, and location services to improve communications, coordination and flow of patients, staff rostering and supplies logistics. And forget plumping up the pillows, hospitals have started to utilise smart beds, which can sense the presence of a patient and automatically adjust to the correct angle and pressure to provide proper support without the need for a nurse to intervene.

Hospitals are also one of the faster growing users of 3D printing technology. This technology allows us to use 3D printers to make some organs and prosthetics, and there has even been some success with synthetic blood.

Computing power allows us to look at the human genome sequencing, cell and organ processes and model them with ‘what-if’ scenarios, changing the chemical composition of inputs to make advances in pharmacology and treatment.

And in the operating rooms, 67% of people would be happy to use a ‘robotic doctor’ if the cost is much lower than a human doctor, according to our research. 68% would also be happy to have a surgical operation performed with a robot-assisted doctor.

Health at home

Doctors are linking up with patients by email, phone and webcam. According to Cigna’s research, 13% of respondents have experienced a remote check-up with a doctor, and an additional 19% will consider it in the next 12 months.

Doctors are also consulting with each other to make critical decisions on heart attacks and strokes. Patients, meanwhile, are using new devices to relay their blood pressure, heart rate and other vital signs to their doctors so they can manage chronic conditions at home.

It’s not only for critical illnesses – scientists are addressing chronic and debilitating conditions. For example, Verily developed smart Liftware Level handles which can be attached to utensils and continually adjust their levels to help sufferers form Parkinson’s cerebral palsy, spinal cord injury, Huntington's disease or post-stroke deficits, eat more easily.

Also, there’s now sensor technology so small it can be swallowed and combined with drugs in pill form. When the pill dissolves in the stomach, the sensor is activated and transmits data via a wearable patch to a smartphone app. Patients and doctors can see if they are keeping up with prescription.

AT the turning point

The remaining four years of this decade may be the most important years in the history of our industry.
Looking back, we may see that these years as a turning point - where technology began to truly help us address the health and wellness needs of everyone around the world by providing new, innovative solutions while bringing down costs and providing better access to health care for everyone.