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IoT: Opening a world of possibilities for Indian healthcare

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Picture used for representational purpose

Nilesh Marathe, Director – Cloud Solutions, Aspect Software discusses the benefits which can be extended to patients with the advent of Internet of Things

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Nilesh Marathe

India is facing a grave problem with just one doctor per 1,700 citizens. These statistics reflect a skewed ratio and is a cause for alarm for the Indian healthcare sector. The sector is already grappling with a host of challenges like lack of adequate equipment to diagnose, treat and monitor the progress of patients in small towns and rural villages.

But, this scenario is changing gradually with Internet of Things (IoT), a platform which facilitates real time capture of information, collating and analysis of information. This innovative technology will help resolve the Indian health industry’s current challenges and ensure healthcare facilities at a lower cost to our vast population. To cater to a population spread across geographies, healthcare organisations will need to leverage mobile technology to advance access to patients and engagement through initiatives such as online scheduling, online chat, and user-friendly patient portals to name a few.

IoT is a disruptive, innovative technology which aims to radically change the way in which healthcare will be delivered, ensuring better outcomes, increasing efficiency and making healthcare affordable to all. It is expected to have a profound effect on the healthcare sector in India. The doctors will have the facility to leverage a diverse range of small but powerful wireless monitors connected through the IoT, to reach and track the patients located in distant parts of India where healthcare facilities have almost been non-existent.

According to Gartner, Indian healthcare providers are likely to spend an estimated $1.2 billion on IT products and services in 2015, a seven per cent increase from the previous year. Hospitals, clinics and ambulance services will upgrade or deploy internal services, software, data centres, IT services, devices and telecom services. Ericsson Mobility Report and ABI Research estimates have projected that by 2019 there will be 30 billion wireless connected devices.

Future of Indian healthcare in a connected world

The focus will now be on electronic health records (EHR) technology to improve the quality and efficiency of care. This technology will help to track crucial information about patients on a continuous basis at every stage of their treatment and ensure personalised care to the patients. IoT is a people-centric technology and is taking one step further to a more connected world. IoT proves to be extremely useful not only in managing health, but is also critical for disease prevention and fitness promotion. Some examples are as follows:

  • Wearable connected devices: Patients will have a device which will help to monitor the physiological condition of the patient (such as blood pressure for hypertension patients, blood glucose levels and weight for diabetics and so on). This periodic data can be collated with the help of IoT and will be useful to analyse the patient’s health parameters.
  • Remote patient monitoring (RPM): This will help in keeping a track of patients in remote places. These small, powerful wireless solutions connected through the IoT make it possible to monitor these patients instead of vice-versa. These solutions will facilitate collating the patient’s data from a variety of sensors, complex algorithms to analyse it and then share it with the medical professionals who can provide correct guidance on the future treatment.
  • Monitoring prescription drugs: Prescription drug manufacturers have already employed IoT technologies to keep the integrity of their prescriptions intact. For example, some manufacturers use RFID tags on their medication bottles. Prior to their arrival at the pharmacy, these bottles are scrutinised to make sure that they have not been meddled with. Alternately, periodic alerts may be sent to patients who have not taken their prescribed pills.
  • Connected care: Elder care is increasingly becoming a matter of concern. IoT enabled technology will help improve the quality of life for the aged and elderly. Universally, seniors find themselves excluded from active social participation either because they are unwell or have been committed to old age homes. Through the incorporation of a range of IoT enabled systems, the elderly will be able to stay independent for longer and will be able to participate in and contribute to economic activity. For example, the elderly will be able to perform easy tasks like checking their blood pressure or weight, or mapping their respiration and heart rate rather effortlessly by means of a wearable device.

All of this suggest that we are at the dawn of an exciting revolution in patient care across India. As more things connect to the Internet and to each other, today’s tools for data management and traditional applications will fail to meet the precise analytics required for the ever-growing, massive, complex data sets known as Big Data. This will ensure that both the consumers and healthcare professionals will benefit from wearable healthcare devices.

Cloud computing is providing Internet access to complex applications and massive computing resources, additional storage and bandwidth capacity. There’s no arguing that investments in data and analytical tools, the network and cloud infrastructure will drastically better the quality and efficiency of India’s healthcare system. And the connected devices offer a bright future to the Indian healthcare industry.

Thus, the IoT is expected to have a profound effect on healthcare in India. It will primarily improve the access to care, increase the quality of care and most importantly cut down the cost-of-care. The healthcare ecosystem of India is moving towards an integrated healthcare delivery system that leverages technology and has the patient at its heart. In addition, it will have significant implications on the health economy in the near future with service going beyond just a phone call.

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