Rapid advancement of medical science is making several life-threatening diseases easily preventable, curable and manageable. For some conditions, such as, peptic ulcer even surgical interventions are no longer necessary. This results in the expansion of preventive and primary-care segments, with equal speed. Simultaneously, increasing complexity of many diseases, late stage disease detection, and better identification of rare diseases, are broadening the specialty hospital segment, as well.
On the other hand, the general mindset of people is also changing as fast. They dare to chart in the cyberspace, seek for more health-information, prefer participative care, expect a speedy treatment process – delivering better outcomes.
The cumulative impact of these are creating some brilliant sparks, confirming evolution of some disruptive health care business models. These are quite different from what we generally experience today.One such model is termed ‘connected healthcare.’ This is a unique business model, having potential to break the decades old status-quo – for the benefit of patients – closely involving doctors, pharma – medical device/diagnostic companies and of course the hospitals. In this article, I shall deliberate on ‘connected healthcare’ looking at its various aspects and examining whether pharma industry is ready for this change. Let me start this discussion with the role of Internet of Things (IoT), as an enabler for this process.
Internet of Things (IoT) – A great enabler for ‘connected health’:
‘Internet of Things (IoT)’ has opened new vistas of opportunities for providing healthcare with significantly better outcomes. According to Ecoconsultancy, by leveraging the IoT network, medical devices of everyday use can be made to collect, store and share invaluable medical data, providing a ‘connected healthcare’ system. Consequently, doctors, along with patients, can get speedy and deeper insights into symptoms and trends of diseases for prompt interventions, even from remote locations. The question that follows: what really is ‘connected health?’
‘Connected Health (cHealth)’ and a teething problem:
‘Connected health or (cHealth)’ refers to the process of empowering healthcare delivery through a system of connected and interrelated computing devices, mechanical and digital machines on an IoT network platform. It provides the ability for seamless data transfer and access between patients and providers, without requiring human-to-human interactions to improve both quality and outcomes of healthcare.
Two more articles, one titled ‘Connected health: How digital technology is transforming health and social care,’ and the other ‘Accelerating the adoption of connected health’, both published by Deloitte Center for Health Solutions also described ‘Connected health (cHealth)’quite eloquently.
One of the papers highlighted, being a technology driven network system, cHealth has its own teething problems. Some of its key reasons include: Many physicians ‘are often reluctant to engage with technology, partly due to the scale and pace of changes, and partly through lack of education and training, and concerns over liability and funding.’
Precise value offerings of a ‘Connected Health’ system:
The Accenture study titled, ‘Making the Case for Connected Health,’ established that ‘connected health’ approach creates value at three different levels, as follows:
- Clinical efficacy and safety - Eliminating duplicate lab and radiology tests; improving patient safety through 24/7 access to comprehensive, legible medical records; and speeding up access to patient medical histories and vital information – the cost of treatment can be reduced, significantly.
- Shared knowledge - Improves care quality, benefits with prompt safety alerts, such as drug interaction, enhances clinical decision-making through sophisticated tools along with evidence-based care protocols, and helps acquiring new capabilities in health care.
- Care transformation - Advanced analytics help sharing clinical decision-making process, population health management, and facilitate building new care delivery models.
‘Connected health’ in managing chronic diseases:
‘Connected health’ is being practiced at different levels in many countries. These are particularly useful in treating or managing chronic ailments, such as cardiovascular (hypertension), metabolic (diabetes) disorders and COPD (Asthma). Some examples are as follows:
Many hypertensive patients monitor their blood pressure and other related parameters, through self-operating digital instruments and devices. If the auto-flagged readings get transferred to the treating physicians through IoT system, physicians can promptly adjust the drug doses and offer other required advices over the same system online, and as and when required or periodically. This could avoid periodic personal visits to doctors for the similar purpose, saving time and money. At the same time, it ensures better quality of life through the desired level of disease management, always.
Similar results have been reported in the management of diabetes and Asthma with ‘connected health’ system.
‘Connected health’ in treating life-threatening diseases, like cancer:
The paper titled, ‘Smart technology helps improve outcomes for patients with head and neck cancer,’ published by the News Medical on May 17, 2018, which was also read at the June 2018 Annual Meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), highlights some interesting developments in this area. This federally funded, randomized clinical trial on 357 people receiving radiation for head and neck cancer, using mobile and sensor technology to remotely monitor patient symptoms, resulted in less severe symptoms related to both the cancer and its treatment.
It also noted: ‘Patients who used the technology – which included a Bluetooth-enabled weighing scale, Bluetooth-enabled blood pressure cuff, and mobile tablet with a symptom-tracking app that sent information directly to their physician each weekday – had lower symptom severity than participants who had standard weekly visits with their doctors. In addition, daily remote tracking of patient wellbeing, according to the researchers, enabled physicians to detect concerning symptoms early and respond more rapidly, compared to usual care.’
While treating serious ailments, medical images, such as computed axial tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), digital mammography and positron emission tomography (PET), can be connected, stored and shared with cloud-based connectivity and online sharing platforms, as confirmed by several studies. This would enable physicians to build better and deeper referral networks, for better diagnosis and speedier treatment inventions to patients.
‘Connected healthcare’ is fast growing:
As the above Accenture study indicates, many countries have started implementing ‘connected healthcare’ systems to deliver cost-effective, high-quality and speedy healthcare services to the population with better outcomes. Some of these nations are, Australia, Canada, England, France, Germany, Singapore, Spain and the United States.
According to the New Market Research report titled, “Connected Healthcare Market – Global Industry Analysis, Size, Share, Trends, Growth and Forecast 2018 – 2022,” published by Wise Guy Research: ‘Globally, Asia-Pacific region is one of the fastest growing markets for ‘connected healthcare’. It was valued at USD 2.65 billion in 2015, and is expected to reach USD 23.8 billion by 2022, at the rate of 30.6% during the forecast period.’ During this span, ‘The global connected healthcare market is expected to reach $105,337.5 Million by 2022 at a CAGR of 30.27%,’ with North America commanding largest market share of 36.7%, the report highlights.
‘Connected health’ shows a high potential in India:
The above report also indicates, ‘mobile-health services’ accounts for the largest market segment in the UK, Italy, Japan, China and India. E-prescribing is the fastest growing segment in Asia Pacific and is expected to grow at the rate of 31.27% CAGR during the forecast-period.
E-Health initiative of the Government of India, which is aimed at using of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in health signals a good potential for ‘connected health’ in India. Fast penetration of mobile technologies even at the hinterland of India will facilitate this process.
Another article titled, ‘Why Connected health is the key to reducing waste and increasing efficiency,’ published in Healthcare India on July 25, 2017, brings to the fore some key benefits of ‘connected healthcare’ in the country. It says, ‘connected healthcare’, can bring path-breaking changes in the country. Following are a few examples:
- Today when almost 70 percent of the medical expenses are borne by the patient, a ‘connected health’ ecosystem, would reduce admissions by early intervention and potentially deter surgeries.
- Having access to a patient’s entire medical record, physicians’ will be able to minimize ‘over diagnosis’, amounting to multiple tests, over-medication and avoidable prescriptions, thereby reducing out of pocket health expenditure of patients.
- When patients are referred from one doctor to the other, or from the rural medical centers to district hospitals, they often need to repeat all the tests, as there is no connected health ecosystem. In doing so, they lose time and sometimes don’t show up for follow up treatments and consultations with their treatment remains incomplete.
Leading private players in ‘connected health’ area:
Some of the leading market players in the global ‘connected healthcare’ market, reportedly, include Agamatrix Inc. (USA), Airstrips Technology (San Antonio), AliveCore Inc. (Australia), Apple Inc. (USA), Athenahealth Inc. (USA), Boston Scientific Co. (USA), GE Healthcare (UK), Honeywell Life care Solutions (UK), Medtronics (Ireland) and Philips Innovation Campus (Bengaluru, India).
Would ‘Connected healthcare’ disrupt pharma’s legacy commercial model:
McKinsey Digital’s March 2012 paper titled, “Biopharma in the coming era of connected health” explains, how ‘connected healthcare’ has started disrupting the legacy commercial models of pharma and Biopharma industry. One of the related examples cited in the article is, pharma’s less emphasis on large sales forces “selling” to physicians.
As this new system gathers wind on its sail, information transparency will allow customers, regulators, and competitors to understand and independently assess the performance of various drugs, often better than what the manufacturers present. These powerful new data sources would reveal true efficacy of medicines, in the real-world settings. No doubt, it will be a significant patient empowerment.
Would pharma be caught off-guard?
Despite such clear signs of changes, the way the pharma industry continues to operate, which as perceived by a majority of the population, is generally self-serving in nature. It has remained virtually unchanged over several decades. Another strong public perception is, patients often get trapped by a two-way financial interest, existing between doctors, hospitals, pharma, biotech – medical devices/diagnostic companies, in various forms. Notwithstanding, industry lobbyists pooh-poohing it, it remains a robust general perception, nonetheless.
That said, this situation can no longer be allowed to remain frozen in time. Today, time is making many things obsolete, including human behavior and business practices, much faster than ever before. This gets fueled primarily by two catalytic factors – one, rapid progress of technology, and the other, which is even more fundamental – the changing demographic profile and social fabric. Together, these are creating a new, informed, more assertive and expressive mindset of people – signaling their needs, preferred choices and processes, even for a health care solution. It’s for the industry now to shape up, soon.
Joining all these dots, one gets a clear sign of ‘connected healthcare’ gradually evolving in India. Even if, it still takes some more time for an integrated ICT system to be in place, especially in India, it’s for sure that ‘connected healthcare’ will be a reality, surely.
As and when it happens, it will be a disruptive process. The process of sharing all requisite disease prevention, treatment and management related data, between patients, doctors and other care providers, including pharma companies – over regulatory approved, interconnected IoT enabled devices, machines and applications, will benefit all.
There will, of course, be several barriers to overcome, before this new era ushers in. One such hurdle being, many doctors still don’t express a favorable attitude towards adoption of ICT technology in their everyday practice. Alongside, the government with the help of regulators, should enact the requisite laws, and frame stringent rules to ensure enough privacy and security of confidential medical information of individual patients. In tandem, appropriate authorities must ensure that ‘connected healthcare’ system is effectively implemented by all concerned.
As strong environmental needs will hasten this process, public access to high quality healthcare with better outcomes – and all at an affordable cost, will improve by manifold. Thus, I reckon, days aren’t too far to witness ‘connected health care’ in India. But, the hundred-dollar questions still remain unanswered – Are most pharma players ready for the ‘connected healthcare’ regime, or will it catch them off-guard?
By: Tapan J. Ray
Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.