Is connected and cloud technology the key to improving the health of the nation?

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Source: New Statesman

A woman gets up in the morning and brushes her teeth using her smart toothbrush that charts her brushing activity and shares it with her dentist. She then exercises using an app on her smart phone that visualises muscle activity and tracks her progress, and makes a note of the calories she consumes at breakfast – important if she’s to maintain a healthy weight.

Her journey to work is by scooter, which has an electronic alert system that automatically alerts her relatives in the event of a crash. Once at work, she sits at her smart desk, which part way through the day notifies her that she’s been sedentary for too long and then orders her lunchtime salad. She also makes the most of her wearable device that tracks her alertness – using her smart sleep mask for a power nap if needing to boost her productivity.

Once it might have sounded like a scene from Back to the Future but today this technology exists, and there’s an increasing appetite for it.

The Internet of Things, as it is known, is growing in size, momentum and economic value. In 2005, there were 2.5 billion connected devices, mainly PCs, smartphones and tablets. By 2020, Gartner predicts this figure will have risen to more than 30 billion, with most devices not being PCs but other objects such as those listed above, adding an estimated $1.9tn to the global economy. Not all of these devices will add value to people’s lives, certainly not in a health context. But of those that do, they have the power to transform the way in which we deliver and receive healthcare.

The Internet of Caring Things (IoCT) has been coined to describe a network of connected objects that serve to actively care for an individual’s physical and mental wellbeing, safety, security and oversight of their loved ones. The vision is for the network to connect an individual’s personal space, and everything they need and value, including health and social services, charities and third sector groups, gyms and leisure activities, and so on. For the NHS, where less than 2 per cent of patient interactions are currently digital, the challenge is how to connect the dots in a way that will create the scale and breadth needed for it to play a full and effective role within this new age.

The NHS isn’t alone in facing such a challenge. Wireless technology is causing disruption across all sectors. In retail, customers are wirelessly comparing products and prices while shopping in store; in the hotel industry, Wi-Fi is now considered the most important amenity to offer guests; and Wi-Fi is even expected to be provided on planes with fliers keen to maintain connection with their favourite apps and social networks while up in the air. As universal connectivity becomes an accepted part of everyday life, it is natural that our healthcare and how we manage our wellbeing should also benefit from the multitude of innovative technologies available today.

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