IoT and AI: Potent combo redefining healthcare

Solutions applicable in the advanced countries will also work in India, if adapted keeping the local context in perspective


The number of connected devices are expected to be more than 50 billion by 2020, out of which 30% are expected to be in healthcare. Photo: iStock
The number of connected devices are expected to be more than 50 billion by 2020, out of which 30% are expected to be in healthcare. Photo: iStock

With information available at the click of a button, our daily lives are caught up in a virtual warp. We have, for instance, software robots that help us make decisions on what we eat, whom we could have as friends and potential life partners.

While we are still grappling and adapting to these rapid changes, the Internet of Things (IoT) will disrupt our world further.

In today’s new-age connected world, IoT seamlessly connects people to people, people to objects and objects to objects and monitors them, at a fraction of the cost.

The number of connected devices are expected to be more than 50 billion by 2020, out of which 30% are expected to be in healthcare.

The opportunity in healthcare IoT is estimated to be $2.5 trillion by 2025.

Boosting this is the fact that the cost of related technologies has come down manifold. For example, a terabyte of storage today costs only $70. The cost of computing power in 1961 was over $1 billion per gigaflop. Today, it is less than $1.

Sensors and cloud infrastructure have become very affordable. Strategies of companies are changing to the extent that any new hardware has a built-in connectivity piece that is capable of sending and receiving data.

Advancement in sensor technology coupled with Artificial Intelligence (AI) is bolstering IoT to be the game-changer.

If leveraged wisely, AI coupled with IoT could be the answer to solve several healthcare challenges that the world is facing today. In the US alone, cost of healthcare is close to 18% of the GDP and over 60% is paid by the state. It is estimated that the increase in the incidence of chronic diseases is set to cost $43 trillion by 2030.

So, can IoT help? Will it be the game-changer? I believe it can. Hospitals today are moving towards achieving efficiency in their operations.

With clinical outcomes dictating their decisions, they are fast adopting data analytics. AI techniques like deep learning and machine learning are being used to study millions of data sets to be able to mimic the human brain. This means faster, accurate clinical decisions.

Apart from this, the biggest cost on the healthcare system in the US is readmissions. IoT is helping care to move from hospital to home in low acuity and post-operative scenarios. This means that patients are continuously monitored remotely and with real-time analysis of the data from the sensors, caregivers can help in early diagnosis helping in real-time early diagnosis, thus reducing the number of readmissions. IoT has also achieved to put health management in the hands of individuals. People are now more conscious about their health and well-being. Health wearables help individuals to monitor health parameters and take control of one’s own health.

But what about patients suffering with chronic illness? IoT has a solution there too. Philips and Radbound Hospital in the Netherlands are helping patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease manage their condition and live a quality life. The patient wears a patch which measures various vital signs including respiration rate, sleep patterns, heart rate, weight, etc. This data is then sent back to the cloud where it can be monitored by the clinician who can take further action if required. The data is available to patients who can monitor their own health. This real-time data can help in early diagnosis and possibly help reduce readmissions to the hospital.

IoT can also help in providing constant care to the ageing population. Philips Lifeline is a solution which helps senior citizens live a better quality of life through remote monitoring and support. A wearable around the neck of the individual measures vital signs, fall, movement. This data is then sent to a back-end system, usually a cloud infrastructure which enables monitoring of these patients. Analysis of the vast amount data will trigger some action based on set rules, either supported by human intervention or without any support. The critical piece here is the system becoming intelligent as it learns and reducing human intervention to a minimum over a period of time. The heart of the whole solution is driven by data.

I believe solutions applicable in the advanced countries will also work in India, if adapted keeping the local context in perspective. The vision of “anywhere, anytime healthcare” will no longer be a utopian myth, but a reality!

Srinivas Prasad is CEO, Philips Innovation Campus Bangalore.

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