Reasearch Triangle: The Perfect Place for Healthcare and IoT Innovation

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It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a visit to the doctor, while necessary, just isn’t fun. Partly, you’re sick or in pain. Mostly, it’s simply a disjointed, time-consuming, and all-around unpleasant user experience.

I was reminded of this when a few days ago when my youngest fell sick.

There’s the queue to check-in upon arrival. Then there’s the waiting room. Followed by a visit with the nurse who reviews the reason for visiting, checks medical records, and then vital signs. Then the wait for the doctor, maybe a lab test, a prescription, a visit to the drugstore, the lab results, the follow-up appointment, etc. etc. etc.  

With IoT on my mind, I sat [and sat and sat] in the waiting room imagining a future of health and wellness, one where your family physician notifies you that based on your child’s health data, he’s showing signs of anemia, so boost his intake of iron-rich foods and monitor his energy levels. IKR? Just saved us a visit to the clinic!

It sounds like science fiction. But it’s not. At Smashing Boxes, we have the unique privilege of seeing many of these INNOVATIONS AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR HEALTHCARE IOT, also known as the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT). As medicine evolves, so, too, the technology.

Enabled by the high bandwidth, low latency and low-cost of 5G, IoMT is about connectivity, the connected infrastructure of medical devices, software applications, health systems, and services. Enhanced data collection, better dialogue between providers and patients, improvements in preventative care — just the tip of the iceberg for transforming healthcare.

The best part of all?

The epicenter is right here, where I’m now sitting. With 45 percent of local businesses involved in the life sciences and the biotechnology/healthcare industry, the Triangle has Io[M]T in spades: Tech, HealthCare, Entrepreneurship, Investment and a low cost of living.

A History Rich in Healthcare

Let’s start with the City of Medicine. The launch of the Research Triangle Park (RTP) and the rise of Duke University hospital system made Durham a hub for cutting-edge healthcare research, professionals, and health organizations for decades. Duke University’s medical school RANKS among the top 10 in the United States, for its long-standing reputation in transformative healthcare research, hospital quality, and its highly-skilled professionals. Right around the corner, UNC-Chapel Hill’s medical school–the #1 institution for Primary Care IN THE COUNTRY–deepens the wealth of healthcare resources in our area even further.

The Triangle region is also home to nationally-ranked research universities, health-focused nonprofits (think FHI360 and RTI), life science investors, biogenetic labs, and pharmaceutical companies — working together to improve lives through medicine–locally and across the globe. In combination with our robust technology and IoT capabilities, Durham’s rich legacy in medicine means one thing: we are placed in a position to create far-reaching, impactful change in countless lives by integrating healthcare and technology.

An Ecosystem for Technology Innovation

Factor in this region’s leadership in technology. Nortel and Sony Ericcson were among the companies that thrust RTP and its neighboring cities into the digital age, placing us at the forefront of the development of wireless and cellular communication.

Fast forward to today: The RTP is one of the FASTEST GROWING TECHNOLOGY HUBS in the United States, and the balance between emerging startup pioneers and established tech players (think Cisco, IBM, SAS) puts us in an unparalleled position.  The Triangle ranks among the TOP 10 REGIONS for the highest percentage of tech jobs in the workforce. Inc. Magazine named the Triangle among the top three best places for launching a startup, with Austin nabbing the No. 1 spot. To top it off, North Carolina entrepreneurs RAISED a record $2.75 billion in 2018.

An INNOVATION THAT MATTERS study used information from local startup founders and business leaders in both the public and private sectors to FIND that “Durham is a national leader in fostering a culture conducive to the open exchange of enterprising new ideas, and to world-class startup entrepreneurship.” In the midst of this powerful ecosystem and the talented communities that call it home, we have the chance to push unprecedented boundaries in IoT.

Source: Research Triangle Foundation of North Carolina

Opportunities in IoT and Healthcare

All that being said, the promise of IoMT, with its vast potential and countless capabilities, is not about ‘things’ or technology. It is focused first and foremost on people. To effectively apply the medical and tech-based resources to the field, a human-centered approach is vital. The benefits of this innovative frontier will be seen through the patients and communities that it helps. Each person’s health journey is entirely different, so the areas that we can implement IoT to make these experiences better are widespread–and it is important to understand these unique stories in order to create platforms and devices that can best support the population.

Imagine this: Patient A, who is afflicted with numerous chronic health conditions, is constantly in and out of physicians’ offices. A spinal disease, blood disease, and kidney disease require them to see several different doctors representing an array of specializations. Having to do this has multiple implications: time spent commuting between various hospitals and care locations to receive different opinions, the mental tax of having to re-explain symptoms and pain to each provider, and the potential danger that could occur if physicians provide conflicting advice or prescriptions. Patient A is not just a rhetorical device–as per the NATIONAL HEALTH COUNCIL, “generally incurable and ongoing, chronic diseases affect approximately 133 million Americans.” Through IoT, we have the power to challenge the status quo. Its technology can provide richer data collection, remote monitoring capabilities, and efficient Cloud-based sharing platforms among providers that will DRASTICALLY IMPROVE the healthcare experiences of entire populations.

These applications of IoT may seem new to you: patient data collection and monitoring is something that typically goes on behind the scenes when you head to the doctor, to ensure that your experience goes as smoothly as possible. However, one of the largest opportunities found in healthcare IoT is one that already has a place in many of our daily lives and can be found right on our wrists.

Medical integrated devices are among the most exciting innovations in healthcare-centered IoT. Wearables, like the Fitbit Versa, Apple Watch Series 4, and Samsung Galaxy Watch Active, have already taken the health industry by storm–and have even SAVED LIVES through alerting wearers of critical, undiagnosed health conditions. With IoT, this vital information can be shared with healthcare providers who can then monitor your medical statistics remotely. This means real-time updates, early warnings (your provider alerting you to cut down on sodium to avoid having to come into the office soon, for example), and increased connectivity between patient and provider. With this advanced technology, preventable illnesses can be altogether avoided, and dangerous underlying conditions can be detected to save lives.

When patients and physicians are in search of an important diagnosis, accuracy and efficiency are key. What if instead of having 100 patient data points available for review to find a possible cause for your ailment, your caregiver had 100,000? This is the astonishing capability of AI-integrated healthcare: in a JANUARY 2019 RESEARCH paper, “Google obtained de-identified data of 216,221 adults, with more than 46 billion data points between them.” Spanning 11 combined years at two hospitals, AI researchers state that the data could predict diagnoses, hospital readmission statistics, and other vital information with unparalleled accuracy. This is how machine learning and AI can support the growth of healthcare IoT by extraordinary measures–this is where we–right here, right now–have the unprecedented opportunity to lead the way.

The possibilities for the future of tech-enabled healthcare are exciting–but as I mentioned at the beginning, this just the tip of the iceberg. With the invaluable opportunities in both IoT and the medical field that surround us in the Research Triangle Park, we have what it takes to push the boundary into the future. We want to improve lives by challenging the status quo in health-based technology, and the key to doing is to being by acting locally while thinking globally. In the center of a tech and medical hub, we have an incredible launching point to innovate in our own neighborhoods–products, research, and progress that can then be applied internationally to move society forward.

It’s going to take dedicated work to recreate the future of healthcare, but opportunities for positive change in medical-centered IoT are endless. Tom Snyder, executive director of the RTP’s RIoT POINTS OUT: “IoT is not coming, it’s already here.”

So what is preventing the new tech from being implemented at accelerated rates throughout nearly all industries?

In order to work both harder and smarter, we have to address the challenges that may stand in front of us. There are AREAS RESPONSIBLE for hindering IoT to becoming a leader in IT integration: data science and analytics drive IoT, but IT and data services are not usually in connection with one another.

Snyder makes a FURTHER CASE: “No organization is vertically integrated enough to provide all parts of an IoT solution, from silicon to sensors to data services on up,” Integrating IoT into industries like healthcare will require many moving parts and individuals from differing specialties to work effectively together to solve difficult problems. These situations serve as an introduction to the challenges we may face when working in this sector of technology.

Overcoming Obstacles; Reducing the Risks

Here are the four key obstacles to IoT’s integration into the field of health:

  1. Effective data collection monitoring
  2. Interoperability concerns
  3. Cybersecurity implications
  4. Involved manufacturing processes

Our second article in this series will address, in-depth, the ROOTS OF THESE BARRIERS and the ways in which we’re positioned to solve them.

What’s your vision of the future of healthcare? We’d love to help make it happen. Contact us today.

This article was co-written by SHANNON RENTNER, who is passionate about health and wellness, healthcare transformation and IoT innovation.

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Smashing Boxes is a creative technology lab that partners with clients, taking an integrated approach to solving complex business problems. We fuse strategy, design, and engineering with a steady dose of entrepreneurial acumen and just the right amount of disruptive zeal. Simply put, no matter what we do, we strive to do it boldly. Let's talk today!

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