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Connected Health - Technology Shapes The Future of Healthcare

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What do Google Apple and Amazon have in common? They are all betting on the business of the connected health. This new model for healthcare has a tremendous promise and is attracting millions of dollars in investments all over the world.

There is an ambitious goal at stake: the ability to exploit the potential of technology to provide a better service, improve the experience of the patients, and reduce the costs of quality healthcare.

The idea of connecting the new technologies and devices into a unified health platform has its roots in the telemedicine. However, it has gained new momentum in the last few years, with the advancements in connectivity and the spread of mobile devices, lead by the smartphone.

Connected health is a sociotechnical model for healthcare management and delivery by using technology to provide health care services remotely (...) It uses technology - often leveraging readily available consumer technologies - to deliver patient care outside of the hospital or doctor's office.” (Wikipedia)

The new generations of smartphones, filled with sensors that can gather all sorts of data, have changed the personal behaviors of millions of people, fostering a new - more conscious - approach to health (i.e., the need to track all our daily activities and wear trackers).

From a business perspective, the increased mobile penetration has lowered the costs required to enter the market and has opened untapped opportunities for those willing to invest in the new frontier of healthcare. A few innovative startups paved the way, followed closely by the tech giants.

A huge push arrived in 2014 when Apple launched HealthKit, a dynamic platform designed to track and share with authorized stakeholders and apps a vast range of health and fitness data across multiple devices. A platform paired with the popular Health app included in the latest versions of iOS.

The most promising feature of HealthKit is the possibility to automate the recording of medical data from different sources and to interact with the electronic records systems of the hospitals or medical offices. In this way, the patient’s data would be always accurate and automatically included in personal reports.

In spite of all the startups already working on similar projects, Apple’s health platform has claimed most of the attention, and it is not the only one coming from top companies that have expanded their usual field of action.

Microsoft has created an enterprise Health Framework based on Azure; Google is making significant investments in health, wellness, and life sciences with Google Fit, G Suite for Healthcare, but also spin-offs like Calico and Verily.

Last but not least, Amazon is also looking to tap into this market, with a dedicated top secret lab dubbed 1492. The involvement of such names should not be surprising; we are talking about a market that is expected to reach a value of 50 billion dollars globally by 2020 (they will become 105.33 by 2022).

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What seemed a sci-fi dream only twenty years ago, today has become a desirable - and more than achievable - perspective. We are surrounded by technologies which have potential healthcare applications.

Some are still nascent (i.e., nanobots in our blood), but many others are already playing a critical role in our lives (i.e., wearables, home kits like Amazon Echo), or entering clinical settings faster than you might imagine (i.e., the Internet of Things and the virtual reality).

It is evident that the core of the connected health is made of technology, but we are not talking about just tools and devices here. This topic is relevant also from a philosophical, ethical and business point of view.

The new health paradigm implies (and requires) a structural evolution in the organization of public and private healthcare service providers, and will bring to the disruption of the medical experience (in terms of behaviors, relationships, and interactions).

All in all, we are facing yet another revolution of the medical customer experience. This model, in fact, is built around the person: a patient that is conscious, empowered, and more engaged than ever. Connectivity enables genuine patient focus in the most efficient way possible.

We have all become active health players instead of passive receivers of medical cares, the very same logic that inspired Pegaso Fit For Future, the European project aimed at promoting a sustainable change towards healthy lifestyles for teenagers, leveraging technology with a holistic and multidisciplinary approach.

This brand new health ecosystem consolidates information from many different spheres of a person’s existence to give a complete picture that includes genetic, medical, lifestyle, and even sentiment data (the Psychographics influence what we do and how we do it).

This holistic view puts the patient at the center of the healthcare system, disrupting:

  • How medical centers operate (Internet of Things, remote assistance and surgery).
  • How patients control their health (quantified self, home domotics, health apps).
  • How doctors and patients relate (Big and Small data, virtual reality, medical chatbots).

In the next years, and in times of cost cutting measures in the public sector, these trends will have an enormous impact on the quality and timeliness of the treatments.

Yes, there are still substantial obstacles to overcome - regulatory control, data privacy, ethical doubts, adoption practices - but if we win the skepticism and solve the challenges, the future of healthcare will be brighter, and our life longer and healthier.

Photos by Biel Morro and Christopher Campbell on Unsplash

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Topics: Digital Customer Experience Internet of Things Health