How will IoT impact healthcare? An interview with David Doherty

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insights from industryDavid DohertyCofounder, 3G Doctor

What is the internet of things (IoT)?

IoT is a term being used to help communicate the complex transition that's happening as mobile transforms the internet into a network of devices.

The idea of the internet being something we go to and use a mouse to navigate is dead as we now can talk to SIRI on our mobiles to immediately summon Uber cars and buy things from Amazon that will arrive in just a few hours. Welcome to a new world!

What first got you interested in IoT and healthcare?

When I was ten I had a computer that I used to write up a clinical trial that involved the use of expensive biosensors that were monitoring elite athletes. If you've ever tried to manage the enormous paper workload of such a process you don't need anyone to explain to you why you might want embedded connectivity, because if data seamlessly populates a database all the sleepless nights and hard work is done.

Later when I went to medical school I realized the career I had chosen was going to be all about managing patients with long term conditions and that healthcare systems the world over were doing an incredibly bad job of understanding how they should evolve to serve this because of the way they were designed around the office visit model that has had a good 2000+ year run but is no longer fit for purpose.

Please be patient I

To get a sense of the scale of the IoT opportunity in society think about how the 'Born Mobile' generation would redesign the sensors that are already around us. Look around you and you should be able to find a sensor. Get a coffee and think about how a child would think it should work. A good example would be the smoke alarm that should be on the ceiling near you. To a child it's completely unthinkable that it doesn't SMS the fire service when activated.

To get a sense of the scale of the IoT opportunity in healthcare think about this: in the USA (the world's most expensive healthcare system) less than 3% of patients with diabetes who are insured have ever downloaded the data from their glucometer. With glucometer test strips costing $50 a box the opportunity for a SIM card to go in a glucometer is completely obvious to the mobile industry but there's resistance from the sickcare industry because it involves changing how incumbent businesses work and make money.

mHealth Symposium #WDC2015

How far has IoT advanced healthcare over recent years?

Think about the Alivecor experience I gave at the IoTTechShow. When I first saw an ECG machine it took 2 people to lift, was mounted on top of a table, needed to be plugged into the mains and when it worked it churned out paper that cost £50 a roll and would need to be posted/couriered to a cardiologist to be read and then you'd need to wait about for a phone call for an opinion.

Today it's all been miniaturized to such a degree that it fits in the strap of an Apple Watch, costs less than the roll of paper to buy, and is twinned with an easy to use app that can safely and reliably tell you that the ECG it captures is normal before it even shares it in seconds with some of the world's top cardiologists who can be thousands of miles away!

What are the main challenges at present?

Educating healthcare industry leaders (who grew up practicing with paper, pagers and answer machines) about the opportunity and helping them learn from other industries about how best to redesign healthcare services.

With the Healthcare Informatics Society, I produced the mHealth for healthcare professionals course to help meet this challenge.

Why haven’t many people looked at their online health records and how important do you think it is to empower patients with their own data?

We've just lived through the 'Nokia Decade'. Before that the computing power and connectivity you have on the smartphone in your pocket would've cost millions to afford. It's ironic that we all now have more computing power in our pockets than was used to take man to the moon yet most of us just use it to launch angry birds at pigs.

It’s time we started using it for more important things don't you think? Apple CEO Tim Cook (a company with $100+ Billion of cash on its books) thinks it is...

In what ways do you think IoT can aid a change towards preventative medicine?

Primarily it helps us see beyond the office visit model:

mHealth Technology: Toward a Hospital Without Walls - Jonathan Javitt Technion lecture

We need to flip the clinic before it'll be as engaging as all the other things that are vying for our attention - how many ads for unhealthy things did you see on your way to work today?

"Flipping Health Care" - IHI 25th National Forum Keynote Address - Maureen Bisognano

How do you think IoT will contribute towards personalized medicine moving forwards?

Everything that can be connected will be connected and this will help carers tell incredibly timely and engaging stories to patients that will help them better identify and reach their goals.

In 2006 you co-founded 3G Doctor, a service providing fully documented mobile video consultations with registered doctors. Can you please outline 3G Doctor’s vision?

That you can put your hand in your pocket and get the documented advice of an impartial and independent doctor that you can trust for a price you can afford.

What do you think the future holds for IoT in healthcare and how do 3G Doctor plan to contribute?

All this innovation is going to be very challenging for healthcare professionals to get their heads around and they have careers in which they're paid to do this so can you imagine the challenge facing patients and carers? We have designed the service to help patients who are confused and uncertain about information.

Where can readers find more information?

  • I write a blog and am easy to find online including on Twitter @mHealth

About David DohertyDavid Doherty

In 2006 David cofounded 3G Doctor after his studies of Medicine at University College London convinced him of the need for remote care services that could provide patients with a means of private and economical anytime anywhere access to the documented care of registered doctors.

David’s role at 3G Doctor involves bringing together feedback from patients & carers, the public, mobile developer communities and me technologists to learn how to improve the patient experience, bake in kindness and begin to understand ways in which 3G Doctor can deliver and support new care experiences.

April Cashin-Garbutt

Written by

April Cashin-Garbutt

April graduated with a first-class honours degree in Natural Sciences from Pembroke College, University of Cambridge. During her time as Editor-in-Chief, News-Medical (2012-2017), she kickstarted the content production process and helped to grow the website readership to over 60 million visitors per year. Through interviewing global thought leaders in medicine and life sciences, including Nobel laureates, April developed a passion for neuroscience and now works at the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre for Neural Circuits and Behaviour, located within UCL.


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