Internet of Things at the heart of healthcare

With data the lifeblood of the digital age, the healthcare sector is already undergoing a profound transformation.

Data is the life blood that flows through societies now. Everything has a digital presence and has the capability to be monitored and analysed. I see the tip of the digital iceberg in terms of the difference data makes to every body's health and there are ample signs that that iceberg is already well above the waterline.

Wearable technology and the Internet of Things have the power to revolutionise how we think of our well-being. As we embrace the new technology, the availability of that data has become more important now than ever.

The Internet of Things seems a logical technology to open up the world of healthcare. Wearable technology that provides live feedback on the wearer’s health helps alert professionals and consumers alike to potential health risks before they become serious. Home scanners, such as Scanadu, allow self-diagnosis, helping avoid a visit to the hospital for less serious ailments which means that hospitals have a more accurate picture if a patient does require treatment.

The diagnostic process itself is helped dramatically by the ability to access the pool of the worlds’ health knowledge and provide that to users via devices and the Cloud. It is now common to look online for symptoms and perform an initial diagnosis without engaging a healthcare professional.

Prevention is better than the cure

Wearables can also provide goals for preventative medicine. I am a keen cyclist and regularly track my heart rate and calorie-burn. My stats are uploaded to the Cloud where I can see how I compare to other athletes my age, encouraging me to push harder and faster and thereby improve my fitness gains. Cloud apps combined with devices mean that amateur athletes can easily track and chart online their weight, heart rate and other statistics to help reach their health and fitness goals.

Every day technology like FitBit and wearables from Samsung, Apple, Microsoft and others provide users with goals to help control exercise, weight and calorie-intake, helping avoid obesity, diabetes and other weight-related health problems.

Mobility increasingly plays a role in health care. The Internet of Things, with home scanners, health care apps, and dietary trackers linked to devices represents a tidal wave of data for healthcare organisations. Some of which is vital and should be remembered, much of which is of the moment and can be discarded. In the medical field, much if not all, data needs to be retained, often for the life of the individual and beyond. Data use within healthcare is vital and the requirement to keep that data highly available has never been greater.

Access to data a vital ingredient

Medical research requires long-term access to data to identify trends that may not be apparent when the data was originally captured. One CIO of a research company I spoke to regarding data archiving highlighted that data from ten years ago might give indications of medical trends that were unimportant at the time but are relevant right now, and  might just save lives. It is through long term analysis that patterns can be identified and acted upon.

For example, spatial mapping has helped track the spread of Ebola and allowed authorities to make the right decisions on where to close borders. Data has also been used to track mutations and attempt to minimise the impact such changes may have.

There is an acute need to have reliable access to data. When we measure the cost of downtime we often consider the financial cost. For example, the average annual length of downtime is around 17 hours spread across an average of 13 outages per year. These outages cost organisations up to $10 million per year in downtime and potentially $2 million in unrecoverable data. In a hospital, loss of data at a critical juncture could spell the difference between life and death, potentially for large sections of a population. Having downtime measured in hours and days is simply unacceptable. Availability of data is of paramount importance and outages, where they do occur, must last mere seconds and minutes before data availability is restored.

As the Internet of Things goes through the transformation to simply ‘things’, the volume and criticality of health data will increase. Data availability underpins our health and, our future.

Charles Clarke is technical director, APAC at Veeam Software