Will the Internet of Things save YOUR life?

We are now only a few months away from the largest IoT event, Internet of Things World (May 10 – 12, 2016 ) in Silicon Valley. It presents, once more, a great opportunity for everyone to take stock of what the Internet of Things is – and what it could be.

For all the innovation on show, however, from smart vehicles to smart resources, smart homes to smart cities, what could be more important than the chance the technology gives us to save and extend our lives?

It’s by no means pure speculation, either. Many diabetes sufferers have seen their quality of life transformed by mobile technology, and now it would seem that asthma sufferers can look forward to similar technology-inspired improvements.

Someone with experience working on developing technology pertaining to both conditions is Dr. Andy Schuetz, Data Scientist at Sutter Health. When we spoke, Schuetz had just spoken at Internet of Things World sister event IoT Data Analytics & Visualization, where he emphasised the importance of making information clear and accessible to patients and physicians alike. We would touch upon this question of visualisation during our conversation, but first of all I was interested to know Schuetz’s thoughts concerning exactly what qualities made a condition viable for IoT treatment?

“There’s a couple of different facets to that,” he says. “Maybe it’s a multi-varied calculation, but is has to be a disease with either reasonable prevalence or extreme severity – something that rises to a level of urgency meaning technology is required. And there has to be some issue that can be addressed by the technology. With some of these wearable devices, it’s not clear exactly how they’re going to solve the patients’ problems, or how the health system’s going to consume the data to help the patient. There has to be a clear linkage between problem and technology.”

He illustrates this by looking at the aforementioned use-case of asthma treatment, honing in on the innovations led by Propeller Health, a company with an FDA indication for predicting severe asthma exacerbations.

“Propeller Health manufactures a device that actually clips on to the inhalers, both the rescue and maintenance medications, and updates location and usage statistics through a smartphone. Then you have very detailed insurance information, and detailed information about how sub-acute exacerbations are occurring, because atypical use of the rescue medication is a warning sign, and they mash that up with the geo-spatial factor. They can actually alarm and notify a patient when they’re going to a place where they’ve had atypical usage of their rescue med in the past: maybe it’s a place where there’s high pollution or some other kind of trigger for a particular patient.”

Sutter also has an early stage kind of relationship with Sotera Wireless, an in-patient wearable, which monitors all kinds of vitals and can bring nurses to the bedside of critically ill patients at the proper time. “­­­I think that’s a relatively easy work flow to iron out because of the in-patient setting, and the value proposition is pretty clear.”

The potential of such devices to extend this blueprint for monitoring and analysing for other conditions will depend a great deal on user behaviour – a much harder thing to predict when people aren’t in a critical medical context.

“We’re trying to understand how aging baby boomers are going to interact with these devices, and keep them charged and keep them coupled with their smartphones. That might be disease specific. I think in the disease categories that have acute exacerbations that are very scary for patients, you can get a lot of motivation, a lot of engagement, as the patient often feels scared and alone when they’re not in the clinic with us which is the overwhelming majority of the time. As for asymptomatic conditions, such as early stage diabetes, it’s more challenging to get engagement from a patient, because they don’t fear the disease. The way the disease progresses and the way the patient feels, and also the age and tech-savvy-ness of the patient, is really going to have a complex implication on how this plays out.”

Could this approach ultimately have a beneficial effect on a huge killer such as heart conditions?

“At Sutter we have a few hundred patients in a clinical hyper tension management programme, and that allows us to capture home blood pressure measurements, with a home blood pressure cuff, and we’re actually having success in that space. As for heart failure – there’s an obvious clinical need, and clearly a huge opportunity to improve patient health. I don’t know exactly what the play is going to be though. Will it be some way to monitor sodium intake or something as simple as Bluetooth scales monitoring body weight? Perhaps something like Proteus, these ingestible sensors that give you really good monitoring capabilities, and some of the other biometrics?”

It is, in other words, an open problem – or better yet a wide open one – but it’s just one instance where an effective approach could change (and extend) millions of lives.

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