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Tech healthcare to the patients

With Internet of Things, patients can be diagnosed by a GP via a video call, easing load on typically overburdened public health systems

The advent of the Internet of Things (IoT) has brought forth new ways of improving the patient experience.

The IoT revolution is set to transform how primary and secondary healthcare is delivered, as organisations invest heavily in digital health tools to solve multiple healthcare bottlenecks; it is estimated that global spending on IoT-related healthcare services will rise to US$1.3 trillion (S$1.8 trillion) by 2020.

Consider the typical doctor visit for non-urgent care, such as for a sore throat. Is it necessary to go to a clinic in all cases?

In Singapore, telemedicine options are available that allow users to get a consultation, diagnosis and electronic medical certificate from a general practitioner via a video call.

Such concepts of virtual care deliver a service to patients that is convenient and more closely attuned to their needs. Achieving that requires collaboration with local doctors, medical facilities and regulators.

If done right, virtual healthcare has the potential of becoming an essential component of the primary care ecosystem.

Driving its use in resolving conditions where a physical examination is not essential for treatment will ease the load on typically overburdened public health systems.

IoT is also starting to play a huge role in secondary care (specialists and hospitals) - where clinicians can leverage connected data sources to make real-time decisions for patients.

Live data accessed on iPads and medical devices enables doctors to obtain patient information at their fingertips; this drives better evidence-based decisions at the point of care.

The IoT can also be used to monitor the incidence, prevalence and location of diseases as they occur, and potentially trigger early intervention to stop them from spreading.

PRESSURES

Through identifying pressures in the system and sharing this information across medical facilities in real time, there is an opportunity to shift the way we deal with health epidemics from crisis management to early intervention.

Patients can now obtain a clearer snapshot of their current condition through consumer-level digital healthcare products, aiding caregivers in providing higher quality care.

Data from sleep-tracking apps and activity wearables offer insight to the treating doctor beyond what is discussed during a consultation.

Also in development are pills that transmit data from the gut to help both patients and doctors track chronic issues without invasive techniques.

On the horizon are electrical stimulators that could accelerate bone growth and smart contact lenses, which have been advertised to provide "super human vision".

This hypothetical story can describe the ultimate aim of the IoT in health and healthcare:

While at a party, a woman receives an alert message, such as a text. It comes to her based on the combination of algorithmic analysis and processing of data from various sources converted into a single piece of information that recommends an action to avoid a healthcare episode: eat something.

Without a doubt, advances in technology can improve the way healthcare is delivered and the overall patient experience.

But whatever technology arrives on our doorstep next, our own health remains as a personal responsibility.

The writer is the managing director of Asia Pacific at Aetna International, a provider of international private medical insurance.

MEDICAL & HEALTH