Big things are expected of the internet of Things (IoT) in a plethora of industries, and healthcare is no exception. The market is poised to reach $117 billion by 2020 according to business intelligence company MarketResearch.com.
IoT covers a broad spectrum of interconnected devices communicating across the net that together can have benefits for the treatment of patients, the workloads of practitioners, and the wealth of the nation.
They extend across the entire healthcare pathway, from monitoring patients in the home, to interaction with professionals and treatment in hospital smart beds.
The technology has transformative potential for healthcare, but must overcome a number of barriers before it can fulfill its promise. Gartner research vice president and former medical doctor Anurag Gupta talked about some of the hurdles.
The current financial strains on the health service are only going to deepen as demand rises while budgets fall. Technology can support cost savings, but the NHS has a chequered history of innovation marked by spectacular failures such as The National Programme for IT.
The current funding system is predominantly hospital-centric, with the biggest financial share allocated to NHS hospital trusts that tend to act reactively rather than tackle problems at the root. Successes have been limited as the deep structural issues remain.
"We just throw technology at the problem without making underlying changes in the way things work," said Gupta.
"In the new digital world, which is more consumer-focused, what we are doing is we are trying to create a consumer-grade digital convenience on top, without making changes in the underlying process."
Any future IoT initiatives will need to be implemented in line with a strategy for transforming the fundamental culture and policy.
Healthcare sector silos
IoT helps devices talk to each other, but healthcare itself is too dispersed to communicate effectively.
"In the healthcare market we still live in the siloed world, which basically means that data sits in operational silos or in clinical silos and nothing talks to each other, which is another major problem," said Gupta.
"We need to focus a lot more on understanding the data that's coming up, because only then can we optimize the whole system much better.
"To really make sense of the system we need to connect the dots. That's really important."