Topics: Digital Transformation; Fed, NSW.
Connected devices present many opportunities to transform the Australian healthcare system.
From enabling doctors and researchers to see patterns and make earlier diagnoses to improving coordination across service providers; data gathered by connected devices can substantially improve patient outcomes and help lower costs for what is an increasingly overburdened system.
Despite these benefits, connected devices – also known as smart devices, wearables or Internet of Things (IoT) devices – also pose risks in the context of healthcare. The increased flow of information heightens the risk of security breaches, which is particularly problematic if the data being transferred is highly sensitive, like personal health data.
Furthermore, technological innovation in the public healthcare system is hindered by an enduring culture of risk aversion, which largely stems from the aversion to disrupting existing workflows and business models, and the fear of repercussions when problems arise.
Overcoming the security risks associated with connected devices, which is as much about data management as the security features of the devices themselves, is fundamental to their widespread uptake in the healthcare sector.
Cost-cutting benefits of IoT in health
With a significant portion of Australia’s disease burden attributed to modifiable behaviours like inactivity, poor diet, and other lifestyle choices, connected devices can help shift the onus from ‘reactive’ to ‘preventative’ healthcare.
Designed to automatically and continuously measure a wearers vital signs, wearable connected devices help individuals take greater control over their own healthcare. Already, many individuals have access to their own health information through consumer mobile devices, which according to the NSW eHealth blueprint, “not only means greater control and knowledge” for users but also “higher expectations about how their health is managed.”
This same vision for greater control over personal health information is central to the Federal Government’s My Health Record (MyHR). Introducing an opt-out pilot of the eHealth system in November 2015, former health Minister Sussan Ley said giving consumers full open-source access to health data and making them available to medical professionals, gym instructors and even third-party companies like Fitbit would ensure individuals had greater control over health outcomes.
For healthcare professionals, having tamper-proof, accurate data about almost everything patients do makes it easier to make informed and early diagnoses. As forecast in New South Wales Intergenerational Report 2016, the use of devices that constantly monitor health indicators will eventually “be able to provide real time information on the status of our health and warn us and our doctors before we get sick”.
Connected devices can also help cut the high cost of running hospital beds by enabling patients to be monitored by healthcare professionals from home. Remote monitoring systems can provide heart rhythm monitoring and other data automatically and wirelessly, to be securely accessed by clinicians through the Internet. Combined with telehealth technology, connected devices will increasingly enable healthcare to be administered remotely and at a far lower cost to both patients and doctors.
Even within hospitals, smart devices can help clinicians better monitor and manage patients in their care. Hospitalised patients whose physiological status requires close attention can be constantly monitored using non-invasive monitoring sensor systems, which collect information and send this analysed data to caregivers – replacing the need to provide regular patient check-ups. According to the NSW eHealth blueprint, a new Intensive Care Clinical Information System (ICCIS) expected by mid-2017 will assist decisions-making in Intensive Care units by integrating data from intelligent devices with other data sources, like medical records.
Furthermore, access to connected data will allow clinicians to prioritise the needs of patients, so that those requiring immediate attention receive care before those in less critical condition. Increased access to data empowers clinicians to take a proactive approach to healthcare, which leads to improved health outcomes at a lower cost.