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Healthcare’s Game Changer: The IoT (Internet of Things)

If you haven’t heard a lot about the Internet of Things (IoT) already, be prepared, because it is already on course to revolutionize not only healthcare, but the entire internet and quite literally, technology in general. On the EHR front, it can enable anytime, anywhere access to patient records from not only practitioners, but also patients and authorized devices and systems. IoT is where we’ll see the transformation of smartphones and apps into genuine medical devices that can take diagnostics and integrate real-time data. This in part will be enabled by apps, like Apple’s HealthKit (which I wrote about last June), and other consumer focused technologies. On the professional side, IoT devices will be enabled by Application Programming Interfaces (API’s), that allow disparate devices, technologies and programming languages to communicate with each other via standardized protocols and tools.

By definition, IoT is a layer of inter-operation over the internet (as a communications infrastructure) whereby interconnected devices can communicate with each other to provide value added functionality. Scenarios include smart buildings with devices such as thermostats and sensors that are able to monitor power use and optimize energy savings. Others envision thousands of vehicles all communicating in real time to keep traffic moving with the least amount of effort for drivers and lowest energy requirements. At Cientis Technologies (founding partners of AmericanEHR), we have begun working on ideas for these scenarios and others that involve the medical and health sciences. We are now researching how smart devices that can communicate with each other to create new patient care patterns and deliver lower cost and improved healthcare for citizens.

Our existing portfolio of healthcare technologies range from our medical community platforms, that allow medical professionals to perform readiness assessment tests, submit ratings, and utilize comparison tools for adopting advanced technology for their practices; an interactive set of cancer management guidelines for medical professionals (still in beta); the ACP Immunization Advisor; or our upcoming mobile app to help patients and doctors with atrial fibrillation management. While these technologies have all been highly regarded as leading edge, and have been implemented and utilized by physicians in dozens of medical specialties, IoT has the ability to bring game changing functionality to apps and web technologies by allowing for new levels of interoperability between devices and systems. Adding “smart” sensors that track vitals through heart rate, temperature, blood pressure, activity monitors, etc. can transform apps and web platforms from reference materials and guidelines, to proactive applications that perform analysis, and chart data, trends and analytics.

Imagine a world where sensors embedded in buildings and on humans could detect patterns of events that would signal the impending outbreak of a new disease? Imagine that the set of devices could not only understand the emergence of such an event, but also act upon the information by gathering and reporting data to a controller who could make decisions to avoid the events from having negative consequences? Thinking about this is exciting when we realize that even a mechanism such as a search engine interface could be part of such a solution, able to use ontologies to understand that multiple searches done by humans are being done for the same basic sets of symptoms. In our world, the technology exists today.  We want to bring it to market for our customers and help them become technology leaders in their fields.

We are not sure where our research will eventually take us in the IoT space. We have ideas and we are eager to apply them in the real world. The future is moving at a fast pace however and our technological direction is taking us into new areas that offer unparalleled opportunities for knowledge gathering and enabling self-aware systems to adapt to evolving situations. We are thinking about features that might be able to predict a person’s likelihood to buy products from a mobile device based on how they interact with their environment (in IoT speak, this would include how they might control IoT devices in their immediate vicinity). Our staff are storyboarding ideas around health care patients that are able to use smart instrumentation and sensors on their smart phones and tablets to help medical staff diagnose illnesses without the patient even coming into a medical facility. Ideas are afloat for extended medical trials using real world sensors to document patient experiences and detect and act upon any negative side effects before they can do real harm.

Our CTO Duane Nickull has recently joined the Standards Council of Canada Ad Hoc committee to provide input to a key standards process for the Internet of Things.  While he has been involved with standards development work for almost two decades, the move into the hardware space of standards is a new area of focus. This IoT standards work is only a beginning on a long road to an exciting future. It is a means to an end and allows us to extend our imaginations and build your technology future today.

Does this technology and it’s potential intrigue you? Share your IoT ideas and thoughts with us as we work to help craft the very architecture of the IoT and the future of the internet.

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