Healthcare in the age of technology is bustling with acronyms and buzzwords. Health IT, EMR, digital health, video-enabled telehealth and telemedicine, mobile health and mHealth, remote patient monitoring, IoT, AI, VR, exponential medicine, ePatient, hearables, wearables, patient experience and many others. Increasingly, the term “Connected Health” is part of the healthcare innovation conversation.
What Is Connected Health?
While specific definitions vary, the Connected Health field is a collection of technologies, sensors, devices, intelligent communications and data sharing designed to deliver actionable insights in order to improve patient outcomes. Technology becomes an enabler for more integrated care, better-informed health and wellness decision making and improved access to quality healthcare.
Connected Health roots stem from Telemedicine and Telehealth (the more recent of the names). Now, it’s an umbrella term, encompassing both the technologies outlined above and the processes and workflows that connect them together and make the whole system work. It contains the 2 main aspects: self-care and remote care, potentially flexibly combined to achieve specific objectives for a given patient population, disease area or care setting.
But Connected Health encompasses more than just a multitude of devices and communication technologies. It is also about changing the culture of healthcare, educating patients and the entire healthcare ecosystems and all the stakeholders about the benefits of Connected Health and changes required to make it an integral part of the healthcare delivery model. Connecting patients to their own data and giving them easier access to healthcare providers, who in turn are connected to their patients via real-time patient data streams with advanced AI and algorithms mitigating the data onslaught — all that is a sizable shift in the current delivery models.
Why Is Connected Health Important?
Our current medical care delivery system is overburdened and extremely costly. Given the shortage of primary care providers and ever-increasing numbers of chronically ill and elderly people, the high quality and affordable healthcare will become impossible without adopting new ways of care delivery. The growth of chronic illness is projected to increase by 40% for heart disease and 50% for cancer and diabetes by 2023. Our population is aging, with baby boomers entering their high-healthcare need years, while physicians and nurses are in short supply.
All healthcare ecosystem stakeholders, from provider organizations to payers to policy makes and patients themselves are actively exploring ways to control healthcare costs and improve access. While stakeholders might have different motivations — like payers trying to prevent high cost hospital re-admissions and emergency room visits and patients wanting to be more empowered in their health — there are shared goals. This drives innovation in insurance plans, care delivery options and patient-driven disease management. There is a broad recognition that technology will play a major role in making healthcare more cost effective and leveling the playing field for access.
Connected Health shows great promise towards better management and health outcomes for patients with complex, chronic diseases and conditions. On the population health level, real-time monitoring and management of such chronically ill populations is a real challenge.
The Rise And Acceleration Of Connected Health
Built on decades of Mobile Health (mHealth) and Telemedicine solutions, the Connected Health of today is propelled by the rapidly evolving Internet of Things (IoT) technology. IoT connects intelligent sensors, devices, software and networks across the Internet. The application of IoT technologies in healthcare is called Internet of Things in Healthcare and Internet of Medical Things (IoMT), an enabling technology for an era of truly personalized, data-driven preventive medicine. This network of connected devices senses and communicates health-related data in real time, allowing for highly personalized and actionable insights.
The MarketResearch.com report states that the Internet of Things in Healthcare is expected to reach $117 billion by 2020. Although the healthcare industry is notoriously slow to adopt innovation and embrace change, several powerful forces are at play that might signal the inevitability of progress when it comes to Connected Health.
“Connected” Is The Future Of Health
There are tectonic shifts in the health ecosystem, consumerization of healthcare is well underway, people want the tools to stay on top of their well-being and participate in their healthcare. Only by empowering the individual, will the true proactive healthcare and preventive medicine be possible. IoMT devices, such as wearables, mobile health apps, in-home medical and consumer devices (think Amazon Echo), remote patient monitoring and other devices are already in wide use.
While the majority of current uses are for fitness promotion and tracking, regular health status data and basic vitals, the applications of IoMT devices are steadily increasing. They form a unique digital fingerprint, which over time grows more meaningful and eventually produces actionable insights. Through feedback loops, health outcomes can be monitored and used to improve treatment plans. IoMT enables real-time medical interventions to be delivered in response to vital data changes, potentially preventing medical crisis.
The whole Connected Health ecosystem is continuously evolving through the latest innovations in smart sensors, connected devices, communication infrastructure, software and apps. It has the potential to enable a paradigm shift in healthcare from treatment of disease and symptom management to focus on prevention and empowering individuals to be in control of their health. Continuous near real-time or real-time data collection will drive patient centered care and over time, benefit all the stakeholders as Connected Health helps to improve availability, delivery, and affordability of healthcare.