Connected health – long just an ideal – is slowly moving toward reality. It’s likely that in the next three to five years, we’ll see the industry working more closely together, enabled by data sharing, collection and monetization for the common purpose of driving better patient outcomes. Key to the healthcare industry’s transformation, however, is collaboration and knowledge sharing across the ecosystem.
We recently convened a roundtable of leaders from the medical device, payer and provider community, all at various stages of their connected health journey. While many were tackling the job of collecting and aggregating data, it was clear that the bigger challenge was turning the data into actionable intelligence.
Here are a few of the current initiatives discussed and the challenges participants have overcome.
Medical Devices: Small Things Go a Long Way
With FDA approval wait times lasting 177 days on average for getting new medical devices to market, one manufacturer has worked to modify its current devices, with the goal of improving field service maintenance. The device maker assessed the productivity and availability of its devices active in the field and discovered that field services maintenance operations were extremely inefficient. Typically, a technician would travel to each hospital, locate the device somewhere within the hospital, download the data and provide routine maintenance, device by device. The manual nature of this process also meant slow response to actual failures.
The company recognized it was already storing highly valuable data like surgical tool usage sequence and total lifetime usage, so it decided to generate ideas for capturing this data remotely, without modifying the devices and reinitiating long regulatory approvals. The goal: Eliminate the need for field personnel to visit sites for simple data collection, and prevent device failure through preventive maintenance.
Using IoT sensors and connectivity, the company is now able to collect data about the health of its devices automatically, enabling strategic and maintenance planning, as well as faster updates, delivered remotely. Problems are captured immediately, and downtime is reduced —creating a better customer and patient experience across thousands of devices.
Newly captured data will also inform and educate device engineers on how to advance the next generation of medical devices to address physicians’ ever-changing surgical needs.
Similarly, another medical device manufacturer worked to improve customer satisfaction through better device connectivity. Hospitals were struggling with inventory tracking issues for the devices, as well as requesting unplanned maintenance. And, when a hospital called about an issue, the field services technician was unable to assess the situation without visibility of the device data.
The manufacturer developed a two-way communication capability to track and trace its devices remotely. Location and usage data now allows for proactive and preventive device management, while enhancing the customer experience by enabling convenient device location capabilities and the ability to address issues in real time.
Connecting with Patients
On the other end of the healthcare continuum, providers shared how they were exploring and conducting pilots to engage with patients in new ways, such as through remote patient monitoring (RPM). An RPM solution would help providers with one of their biggest challenges: treatment adherence for patients with chronic illnesses such as heart issues or diabetes. The solution would enable providers to capture, secure and aggregate patient vitals data remotely, engage with patients in real time via a mobile app or Skype, and reward patient adherence.
Such solutions are increasingly relevant, as more patients use their mobile devices to manage their health. According to one recent study, nearly 60% of U.S. consumers have used their smartphone to communicate with a medical professional, and almost half use a fitness, health or medication-tracking app. The use of healthcare wearables is expected to increase for a wide range of healthcare-related applications, including treatment of chronic disease, RPM, eldercare and wellness programs.
The Road Ahead in Connected Health
Roundtable participants raised several issues and observations to help advance the current market:
- Could a one-stop-shop be created for all health wearables and their APIs?
- Next-generation wearables must be designed with a customer-centric UX in mind. The user experience needs to be engaging, contextual and relevant, both for patients who are young and fit, and for older patients with a chronic illness.
- Data management needs to be improved, particularly in the areas of aggregation and normalization, with the goal of frictionless data capture.
- How can Internet of Things (IoT) solutions enable patients to proactively interact with their devices to choose the next best action?
- Can we collectively build business models by forming alliances throughout the ecosystem and applying governance to support consumers at all stages of the patient journey?
Connected Health Ecosystem: Working Together
In the ongoing political turmoil around establishing a national healthcare bill, everyone agrees on one goal: Healthcare needs to become more outcome-focused. For medical device manufacturers and pharmaceuticals businesses, the first step is developing more connected solutions.
The path forward is to build an ecosystem that can harness data, provide insights to improve health outcomes, reduce the cost of care — and enable healthier lives.