The Healthcare Hub

The Internet of Things Global Forum: Imagining the Possibilities for Healthcare

Monday, November 4, 2013

I flew back last night from Cisco’s Internet of Things Global Forum, where I had the honor of being invited to present on the healthcare supply chain. The good news is the inaugural forum, which included some of the world’s real tech heavyweights, had healthcare on the agenda; the not so good news is the topics and conversations only scratched the surface of what’s possible. This is the first in a series of blogs that I will write on the potential for the Internet of Things, or more appropriately the Internet of Everything, in the realm of healthcare and the supply chain.

The term the Internet of Everything, which is being used more often, is particularly appropriate in healthcare as we connect people, organizations, processes, devices and data in a far more networked environment. Future blogs will cover topics from integrating supply chain processes to capturing, sharing and discovering insights in data never before possible. As one speaker aptly commented, much of technology is used to automate what exists. IoT/IoE is about identifying what is possible. We will also explore some of the barriers, such as security, data privacy, standards, interoperability and open architectures, identified at the conference, and how we can apply some lessons learned in the creation and evolution of GHX and B2B exchanges (which were called the killer application in the Internet world less than 14 years ago). I hope you will join me in the discovery.

I was surprised to find out that I was one of the few people on the agenda focused primarily on healthcare. After all, there is so much need and opportunity, and on so many levels. Both Cisco Chairman and CEO John Chambers and Chief Globalization Officer and EVP of Industry Solutions Wim Elfrink commented that healthcare is one of the areas for which they have the most passion and see the greatest potential. But it’s up to us to think in a more collective and connected manner.

In his closing keynote, one of today’s most celebrated inventors, Jay Walker, noted that “We are the most important thing in Internet of Things.” Jay is the founder of and curator of TEDMED, a multi-disciplinary community of innovators and leaders who share a common determination to create a better future in health and medicine. Jay told stories of hope, about people being equipped with technology, whether wearable or ingestible, that will provide them with much more actionable information about their own well-being. For example, he said nearly every adult, at least those who eat a Western diet, probably have some degree of heart disease, and for nearly half, the first indicator is death. By being connected to devices that sense when there is a problem, we can potentially reduce the occurrence of what is now the leading cause of death in the United States (and potentially globally by 2020).

Good news? Absolutely. The end of the story? Not at all. The thing that makes IoT/IoE so amazing is the potential for connecting, well, everything. Patients will be connected through a variety of devices to a variety of professionals and diagnostic tools that can help them manage their own health by eating better, exercising more, managing their cholesterol and insulin levels (the list goes on) and being alerted when they need to seek professional help. But what about connecting those devices and the data they capture (in a secure manner of course) to help understand what drives better population health. It must start with individuals, but the real potential comes when we can garner enough information to conduct the kind of analytics necessary to enhance the health of larger populations. After all, this is the era of big data, and what we are after is the greater good.

The opportunities and need to think more holistically were highlighted in a story told by the previous speaker- the CIO of the city of Barcelona. He spoke of the devastating floods in Thailand and Bangkok in 2011. As the rains began to fall, sensors on individual dams up river from the city did exactly what they were programmed to do: They opened the flood gates. But the rains were so widespread that multiple dams increased their discharge rates, unleashing overwhelming flood waters downstream. In this case, the lack of a holistic view may have led to a larger disaster. In the case of healthcare, the lack of a holistic perspective can limit the potential of what’s possible.

As I mentioned, healthcare had a relatively limited presence on the official forum agenda, with only one session , The Impact of IoT on Healthcare, including the topic in the title. Dr. William Kennedy, a pediatric urology specialist, discussed how telemedicine has enabled him to deliver greater value treating patients remotely. Yes, telemedicine- while not necessarily new - is an important application of IoT that should be replicated and expanded around the world. The key, I believe, is to continue to improve on applications of this proven concept, while exploring what else is possible. As former Cisco Chief Talent Officer Annmarie Neal and I write in Leading from the Edge, it’s about innovation at the core AND on the edge.

I applaud Cisco for bringing the world together to explore the IoT/IoE. I am pleased that Cisco is already planning next year’s event, and I hope to be part of the conversation. Yes, technology has the ability to connect us, and in the application economy, the applications are seemingly infinite. But sometimes it still takes conversation and personal connections to unleash the creativity. After all, it is still about how people use the applications and how innovators design new ones to meet human needs.

Please watch for future blog posts with more insights from the forum and discussion about how we can apply them to healthcare and the healthcare supply chain. Please add to the conversation. It is about connecting after all.

Image Description

Karen Conway

Vice President, Healthcare Value