April 20, 2021

The future of healthcare is smart technology and metering

By James Weston, Principal Consultant at Gemserv

When we think about the Internet of Things (IOT), it’s hard not to solely think about the ever-increasing, invasive web of widgets squawking at us in our homes. But outside of the indulgent uses of IOT and smart technologies, there is vast potential for these systems to empower and support our nation’s health.

Tablets and smart devices have positively equipped and empowered the older and isolated part of our population – allowing them to continue to stay connected and engaged with family and friends.

The Health Use Case

When it comes to smart technology, IOT and health care – there are two primary areas we see the potential for exponential benefits in the long term. The one we are probably most familiar with is how these technologies can enable users in their day-to-day lives.

The second is the use of these technologies as identification systems. Collating and analysing disparate data sources to provide early indications and warning signs of potential health issues. It’s the former, identification; we want to focus on in particular.

We have already seen the realisation of technically supported early identification in the form of predictive maintenance across several sectors. Essentially identifying a problem at the earliest stages and allowing for targeted intervention before it becomes an issue. We have the ability to now apply these principles acutely to the health sector, and our well-being.

In enabling this, let’s consider an IOT device that most of us are becoming unconsciously familiar with in our home – the smart meter.

Smart meters allow us to track and analyse a whole world of hidden micro-behaviours that we currently do not measure. The multiplying benefits of these devices will be in their ability to crowdsource insights across thousands of devices, as well as register changes and adjustments that conventional analogue systems would not detect.

A report by 20/20health highlighted how smart meter technologies could help both identify the early signs of dementia, and support the elderly and the vulnerable in their homes.

If we extrapolate these principles out further, we can see the broader implications this approach could have on our nation’s health and well-being. A suitably sensitive smart meter could, over a relatively small period of time, identify slight deviations in a household’s activity, such as water consumption. By monitoring the variation, and through comparison with developed scenarios and profiles, it would be possible to indicate whether this behaviour was indicative of the early stages of diabetes, for instance. This would allow the individual to proactively schedule an appointment with their Doctor, to investigate, and if necessary, address this at the earliest possibility.

Security, Trust, and a Health Revolution

On the back of this great step forward, we want to consider the caveat it comes with. From flaws in nest systems to hackable doorbells, IOT and smart technology have had a bad reputation when it comes to security. While there are, as of yet, untapped benefits that come from devices, and smart technologies, there continues to be concern around how companies collect, protect, and use the data. The greater insights and intelligence these devices can give is directly proportional to the amount of data that is collected and processed.

One of the crucial factors in leveraging these technologies to support our nation’s health is that they must be built on a bedrock of trust. The future potential for societal and health benefits from these types of technologies is too great to fall at the hurdle of security.

This in itself, poses a significant challenge. For a start, it will require greater co-operation between manufactures to ensure secure interoperability, the development of universally applicable security standards for the technology, stringently adhered to anonymisation processes for individual’s data and Personally identifiable information (PII), as well as regulatory oversight.

In short, for these far-reaching health benefits to be realised, this technology and data must be beyond the reach of exploitation. This is no small feat. However, if security isn’t embedded, and trust established throughout the process, a potential health revolution will fail.

With all this said, however, this is a challenge worth overcoming.