Twenty years in the making

Healthcare delivery needs to change, becoming more efficient and more patient-centric.
By Joseph C. Kvedar
02:12 PM
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Recently, when I Googled the term "connected health," I was astonished to yield over 158,000,000 search results. What's remarkable is that when we launched what was originally called Partners Telemedicine in 1995, the terms connected health, mHealth or digital health simply didn't exist. In 2007, we created the term connected health and renamed our Center to better reflect not only our work, but the trajectory of the industry.

Today, connected health is mainstreaming in a rapid way. But as I talk to investors, entrepreneurs and business leaders, they are at a loss for what to do with this exploding opportunity. The space feels chaotic and they worry about healthcare--the complex, long sales cycles, liability concerns, overregulation and the like. My new book, The Internet of Healthy Thingstakes the lessons we've learned over the past 20 years and brings them all into focus, providing guidance on what investments, business strategies and technology considerations are necessary to improve health and wellness, and achieve order (and profit) from the chaos.

Having been fortunate enough to enter this field from the ground floor, I'm proud to be among some of the earliest pioneers who helped invent it. When I embarked on this journey, it was well before the Internet, cloud computing, ubiquitous sensors, social networks, tablets, e-readers, mobile phones and apps became part of the fabric of our everyday lives. I didn't know with what, with whom or how we would be connecting to our patients. I did, however, recognize the need for technologies that could deliver health in a manner independent of time and place. And I knew that healthcare should be available to people in the context of their everyday lives, and that implementing care in this manner would improve both quality and efficiency.

Today, everything and everyone is connected. Experts predict that by 2020, 26 billion everyday objects will be able to capture, receive and share data via a vast, interconnected global network linked together by inexpensive sensors, GPS and the cloud. Just around the corner, real-time biometric data will be automatically captured and used to learn more about the impact of lifestyle on disease and wellness, and ultimately change behavior for the better. Hence the term and title for my book, The Internet of Healthy Thingsor IoHTIn the new world of the IoHT, virtually any object--a watch, a shirt, the steering wheel of your car or the mattress you sleep on--can be transformed into a data-collecting object that can be used to improve your health.   

But selling devices and apps is just a small piece of the connected health market. Personal tracking data contains a treasure trove of information about how people live, work, play and even think, which sheds a great deal of light on their lifestyle, including their habits and preferences. It is also an incredible resource for businesses, insurers, healthcare providers and entrepreneurs--even government health ministries--who need to better understand what motivates the health consumer.

The business of healthcare is also changing dramatically, with providers taking on risk for population-level care and consumers buying insurance on exchanges and paying a much larger part of their bills. And all of this medical information is available to patients on the Internet, creating a more aware and demanding healthcare consumer. The disease burden is changing, too, with the ever-growing specter of lifestyle-related, chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol and obesity. These growing healthcare challenges are well-suited for connected health solutions, and create a huge opportunity for businesses that produce the goods and services that can move health and wellness into the everyday lives of consumers and improve clinical outcomes.

But where, specifically are those opportunities? How is the IoHT opening up healthcare to companies that have never before ventured into this space? Who will be the winners–and who will be the losers–in the new connected health ecosystem? In my book, I explore these and other topics, including:

  • Consumer behavior and the strategies and programs that can apply to the coming IoHT, while anticipating future trends
  • 'Frictionless' design for personal health devices and platforms that make the health consumer experience more compelling, engaging and addictive
  • New and potential applications of the many different (and novel) form factors that can be used for connecting health information to consumers
  • Strategic advice for startups and entrepreneurs to the connected health market
  • Unavoidable trends and important opportunities for the future

Healthcare delivery needs to change, becoming more efficient and more patient-centric. We need all of you to work furiously at the challenge at hand. My wish is that each of you takes something from this book that will enable you to take a risk, but do so with greater confidence.

I would also be interested in your feedback on the book, and the concepts and ideas put forth to help disrupt and advance care delivery.