HALF MOON BAY, Calif. – The nascent "internet of things," (IoT) an evolving, borderless network of small, sensor-laden devices that is expected to transform at least some aspects of health care and clinical trials, holds great promise but also significant challenges that, for now, continue to stymie some of its potential, panelists at the Techonomy Health Roundtable said Wednesday.
A primary goal for both doctors and health care providers is to get people engaged in their care, said Sumbul Desai, vice chair of strategy and innovation at the Stanford University School Medicine, who's in charge of digital health programs and strategy there. "I think the IoT, if we do it correctly, is a great vehicle for doing that. I think one of our biggest challenges currently is that we make interacting with every aspect of [health care] so difficult. What I'm most excited about with the internet of things is how can we leverage that to decrease the friction and make things easier?"
Desai suggested that the focus on clinical care delivery often misses elements that would better reveal a person in their totality: consumer habits, the purchase of healthy groceries or delivery of medicine for better adherence.
"The technology is an enabler. [Yet] anytime we've focused solely on technology, at least at Stanford, we've failed," she said. After first rolling out video-based doctor appointments to its patients, many of whom live in the heart of Silicon Valley, Stanford Medicine saw very little uptake, she said. After tweaking the model to offer both in-person and video visits, then relying on video visits more for follow-up and health coaching, there was far better uptake, she said.
"I would double-down on the fact that it's not about the technology," said Rick Valencia, president of San Diego-based Qualcomm Inc.'s Qualcomm Life division, which has long worked to build a network infrastructure to undergird digital health technologies, first through deployment of its 2Net service, a security-focused connectivity system primarily built for medical and diagnostic devices to report data from patients' homes to their doctors, and later through its acquisition of Capsule Technologie, which is more focused on integrating medical devices and clinical data management platform in hospitals.
Though smart phones, smart watches and wearable fitness trackers have so far hogged the limelight insofar as health care gadgets go, Desai, Valencia and others at the Techonomy event expressed certainty that a new generation of internet-connected household devices would find a relevant and important place in the health care world. For instance, Desai shared, Seattle-based Amazon.com Inc. is already working with Stanford. The company has found substantial success with its year-old Amazon Echo, an internet-connected speaker attached to the company's voice assistant, Alexa.
But companies like Amazon, Apple Inc. and Alphabet Inc., all of which have shown substantial interest in health care, have yet to fully wade into health care's regulated areas, the panelists said.
"I think they're all starting to realize that they're going to need to get in a little deeper in order to actually figure out 'what the what is,' even in the consumer space," said Desai. "They're still on the fringe, and until you get a little bit deeper into some of the messiness of health care, the product is still not quite elucidated and clear."
One potential bit of good news that attendees of the panel all seemed to agree on is that under president-elect Donald Trump, regulation could ease, suggesting that "some of the obstacles that have been holding back some pretty cool stuff might not be as much a problem," suggested Techonomy founder and CEO David Kirkpatrick.