You can’t turn on the news today without being bombarded by images of smart watches. All the name brand electronics companies are throwing their weight into the field – Apple, Samsung, Motorola, and Sony. It’s easy to see that we’re witnessing the rise of the next big device, surpassing smart phones and tablets in their pervasiveness. But smart watches are just the beginning of a greater trend of smart devices invading our homes. Anything and everything that we use in the home is all the sudden becoming digital:
- Thermostats that sense and learn when you come in and leave, and adjusts the temperature accordingly.
- Smoke detectors that can send alerts to your phone.
- Refrigerators that let you know when your food is about to go bad.
- Washers and dryers that learn what kind of cycles your clothes need.
- Windows that tint as the sun rises and un-tints as it sets.
As fascinating as these new smart technologies are, they’re still just minor game players in the movement towards what Michael Wolf from Wired labeled as “Internet of Things“:
In this future, the intelligence once locked in our devices now flows into the universe of physical objects. Technologists have struggled to name this emerging phenomenon. Some have called it the Internet of Things or the Internet of Everything or the Industrial Internet—despite the fact that most of these devices aren’t actually on the Internet directly but instead communicate through simple wireless protocols. Other observers, paying homage to the stripped-down tech embedded in so many smart devices, are calling it the Sensor Revolution.
While all major industries have been impacted by the advances created by the Sensor Revolution, perhaps none has felt it more than the healthcare industry.
As the internet has (for better or for worse) allowed knowledge that was once within the strict purview of doctors to be accessed by the average person, so too will the internet of things advance this trend of allowing individuals to take more control over their healthcare. And that’s exactly what the majority of tech-savvy Millennials (the generation born between 1980 and 2000) and everyone younger than them are expecting from their healthcare providers.
It’s easy for them to imagine being able to view lab test results on your phone just moments after giving blood. Or use prescription bottles that note when you last opened them, and send a notification to your phone letting you know that you need to take your next dose. Or even getting your prescription on your phone, where you can then send it to your local pharmacy to pick up at your leisure.
But these aren’t just visions anymore – all of them are currently in the works by businesses of all shapes and sizes, from small tech start-ups to giant pharmaceutical companies with billion-dollar market caps. A few other mind-blowing and life-changing ideas are already popping up across the Internet:
- Insulin pumps that allow doctors to monitor patient insulin levels remotely
- EKGs that can be worn at home and that alert a doctor when the patient is having irregular heart rhythms
- X-ray machines that send the image to a smartphone or tablet, which are then accessed by radiologists in different states or countries to review
Or how about this extreme form of the Internet of Things – nanosensors in our body that can transmit data a wearable device which then sends the information straight to your practice:
So how can your practice embrace the Internet of Things?
First, decide if expanding into the Millennial demographic and the Internet of Things is right for your practice. Many offices won’t have any choice but to embrace changing technology and smart devices. Any practice that fights this trend will become irrelevant. You will also miss out on technology that could make your office run more efficiently and save you time and money.
Second, if you want to bring these technologies into your office, a good place to start is to keep abreast on the latest advancements and trends. Some of my favorite websites are BGR, Re/Code, and Arstechnica.
Next, you’ll have to figure out whether the technology you’re interested can do one of 5 things:
- Save you time
- Save you money
- Bring in more money
- Bring in more patients
- Increase patient satisfaction
The more of these benefits the technology can bring in, the better. A wearable device is good for increasing patient satisfaction, for example, as it allows them to monitor their own health. But once that device is attached to software that allows the doctor to view the vitals remotely, then the doctor saves himself time (only has to see the patient when irregular vitals are detected) and money (he can spend his resource more efficiently on patients that actually need to be seen).
The next step in bringing smart devices and applications into your office is deciding whether to make or buy them. If your office serves a very particular niche or has a very particular need that attracts little attention from tech developers, then you may have to work with a consultant to create your own device or app.
However if you’re just looking to change general business practices like how you communicate with customers or saving money on appointment bookings, or if you want to implement one of the monitoring devices I mentioned above, then you can get away with buying one of the hundreds of apps and devices coming onto the market everyday.
Lastly, like all good things in life, you have to be aware of government regulations that may limit how you use your smart devices and applications. Many of these technologies utilize private patient information, which means you’ll have to take privacy concerns seriously by complying with federal regulations concerning the private data.
Additionally, because many of these devices and applications are used to diagnose or treat diseases, that means they’ll soon come under the scrutiny of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) if they haven’t done so already. That means that soon some of these technologies may require prescriptions in order for the patient to access them, which may defeat the purpose of using them in the first place. It will affect some technologies more than others, so just be aware that it may be something you have to consider before you purchase your next app or smart device.
That concludes the first part in our 4-part Digitize Your Practice series. In Part 2 of the series, we’ll dive deeper into the trend towards greater patient control over their healthcare, and how you can balance their demand for greater control with your practice’s knowledge and experience.
Yours in tech,