Healthcare a bit of a laggard in harnessing the Internet of Things

Healthcare consumers may be leading the march towards the much-vaunted Internet of Things (IoT) by increasingly adopting wearable devices and sensors, but only 10 per cent of Australian healthcare organisations are actively analysing the big data being generated.

A survey of 300 businesses conducted by analysis firm Telsyte on behalf of Microsoft has found that 26 per cent have deployed IoT but just four per cent claim to be mature users of the technology.

For the 30 or so healthcare, education and training organisations surveyed, 10 per cent were using big data, although 45 per cent were investigating it. 25 per cent said they had not identified a need and 20 per cent had identified a need but were not investigating.

According to Mircrosoft Australia's group lead for Internet of Things, Lee Hickin, organisations that are not seriously considering how this new era of technology can benefit their business are missing out on a huge opportunity.

Telsyte defines IoT as the network of physical devices, such as machinery, cars, lighting, manufacturing equipment and sensors, that interact with each other and with business software systems. However, IoT is not limited to devices as it also includes traditional PCs and servers.

“The IoT collects and collates data from those connected devices, data that can be used to improve customer service, increase revenue and reduce costs,” the report says.

“The deployment of IoT is taking place in lockstep with the emergence of big data and business analytics disciplines.”

While IoT is being used in healthcare for home monitoring of vital signs and environmental factors, to track equipment and patients in hospitals, and patients themselves are collecting certain measurements like heart rate and blood glucose levels, the question for the healthcare industry has long been whether clinicians are actually using that data.

There are still no answers to this, but Telsyte and Microsoft say healthcare organisations as businesses might be missing out on cost savings and efficiencies by not taking advantage of the technology.

“Among those organisations that have deployed and are measuring their IoT initiatives, 65 per cent report operational cost savings and 53 per cent have increased productivity and efficiency, reporting an average 28 per cent (cost savings) and 29 per cent (productivity and efficiency) improvement,” the report says.

While the hype over IoT has many in the healthcare industry sceptical, that was also the reaction to terms like big data and before that the cloud. Telsyte managing director Foad Fadaghi said the main challenges facing Australian businesses in using IoT were similar to big data and the cloud.

“The first challenge was IT and technology and that’s partly to do with integration and standards,” Mr Fadaghi said. “Standards are always a big concern.

“The second one was around affordability of services. Third was security concerns and that segues into data privacy concerns.”

Mr Hickin said that for the healthcare industry in particular, privacy is always a trade-off with efficiency.

“It’s very similar to when internet banking became a mainstream event and everyone was very scared of it,” he said. “We’ve flipped that mindset and everyone has gone from being very scared of it to why would I not do it.”

One organisation that is using IoT and is working to overcome concerns about data privacy and security is Dental Corporation, a part of Bupa. Dental Corporation owns over 200 dental practices in Australia, New Zealand and Canada, managing their back-end and financial requirements while the dentists concentrate on their clinical work.

Last year, Dental Corporation completed a project with integration solutions provider Breeze, a Microsoft partner, to extract financial reporting data from a variety of different desktop software system used by the dental practices, which is then collected in the cloud and analysed by Dental Corporation.

Rather than roll out a new practice management software solution, Breeze used Microsoft's Cloud Data Manager data-extraction program to capture certain data as it is updated. It is uploaded to Microsoft's Azure cloud and then sent to Dental Corporation using Microsoft's BizTalk.

Microsoft is now hosting Azure in Australia, which the company hopes will encourage more healthcare and government organisations to store data in the cloud as it will no longer go offshore.

Dental Corporation's executive manager for group business systems and services, Kellie King, has taken business executives from both Dental Corporation and Bupa on a field trip to the Azure data centre in Melbourne to help overcome their concerns about data security and the new world of IoT.

Ms King said Dental Corporation was not yet extracting and analysing clinical data, but hopes to do so.

“Bupa is definitely on that journey about how they can collect that clinical data without it being invasive,” she said. “The security police in Bupa told me I shouldn’t do it, but this is the way we are going forward.”

Breeze CEO Nicki Page said in addition to business data, clinical data will be of enormous benefit to health insurers like Bupa.

“They know that gum disease turns to heart disease and [by using IoT and business intelligence] you can say these kinds of people are at high risk,” Ms Page said. “That’s the vision. Bupa has a tremendous 2020 vision, that they want to provide a better service and a proactive healthcare service and that is ultimately where we will go with this technology.”

The Telsyte survey, Cut through: How the Internet of Things is sharpening Australia’s competitive edge is available online (pdf).

Posted in Australian eHealth

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