By the end of 2019, 87% of healthcare organizations will have adopted Internet of Things (IoT)-related technologies, and by 2022, IoT spend in healthcare is forecast to exceed $158 billion.
It’s not lost on digitally ambitious healthcare executives that IoT has the potential to fundamentally shift how their businesses function. Whether it’s operational improvements around patient data and billing, proactive and remote risk monitoring for plan members, or even real-time analytics in acute care settings, IoT’s potential in healthcare is only beginning to unfold.
But with (literally) hundreds of IoT technologies on the market, how can healthcare leaders ensure they’re making the right digital investments? And once those dollars have been allocated, how can stakeholders ensure IoT’s success?
As healthcare sector leaders attempt to make major strides in 2019, these four steps can align voices internally to develop a successful investment strategy.
Clarify what technology means to your business
Emerging technology is a means to generating new value, not an end unto itself. Senior leaders no longer need to evangelize the change, but they absolutely need to practice transparency throughout the process. Explicitly clarifying your company’s core position on technology helps mid-senior management execute new initiatives with teams on the ground. To do this, gather your senior team in a workshop to simplify and clarify technology’s value proposition for your company (use popular open source tools to make it engaging). The resulting statement can be as short as three words or as long as two sentences, but it should provide a rallying point your leaders can adapt to new technology initiatives, like IoT. For example, if you determine that technology helps achieve operational efficiency in your health system, IoT can be viewed as a data-driven enabler of that goal; if technology improves your member experience, IoT makes sense because it helps build a 360-degree view of your membership.
Get the right people in the room
Healthcare technology budgets were expected to rise an average 9% in 2018. For some leaders, this was just enough growth to make initial IoT investments. Digital health technology won’t pull back in 2019; services and programs for out-of-hospital care alone are expected to rise by 30% to more than $25 billion globally. Pair that with the fact that 75% of senior hospital executives are on board with digital innovation, and it’s a good time to make a case for an IoT pilot in order to generate valuable proof points.
As you begin building an IoT investment case and shoring up internal partnerships, consider the following:
- Various interests, working in harmony. It’s important to align thought leaders in the data/informatics, member/patient experience, technology and finance departments during the planning phase. Often siloed in previous eras, these areas can no longer exist in business value isolation — not to mention they directly affect the company’s goals and future.
- Don’t expect a one-size-fits-all. Narrow the initial goal and don’t take packaged service at face value. One of Nerdery’s healthcare partners shared their story of IoT implementation success. Instead of piloting an out-of-the-box predictive flow monitoring program in its emergency room, the organization invested time and asked the vendor to invest resources in a design study—to get it right for their program. Instead of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, the tech vendor adapted to the partner’s workflow and the joint learnings were valuable to all parties.
- Consult a variety of departments and seniority levels. 70% of healthcare professionals say the biggest hurdle to implementing new technology is resistance to change from physicians and staff, who are wary about learning new skills and adding to their already busy schedules. It’s critical to include these staffers in small-scale pilot testing, especially in situations involving complex workflows. This is incredibly effective in identifying potential roadblocks that may be encountered at scale, and ultimately elevates the wisdom your organization already possesses on the front lines.
While doctors in the healthcare organization of the future may walk (likely virtual) hallways armed with up-to-the-second information about each patient (down to the DNA base pair), that world is far from reality. Current technology doesn’t communicate with IoT well enough to sync up an entire hospital, much less an entire health ecosystem. So, how might leaders participate in change without watching and waiting from the sidelines? One way is by proactively limiting what you want your IoT investment to answer so that you gain value immediately. A complementary approach is to pay attention to the platforms current IoT programs leverage. Together, these factors help healthcare leaders make smarter choices so that investments today can reasonably adapt to new needs and complementary technologies tomorrow. Contributors include:
- Environmental programs. 44% percent of hospitals planned to implement remote monitoring tools that reduce cost and risk in 2018, like the series of timers one IoT company is developing for implanted devices like catheters. The timers connect via Bluetooth or central hospital floor hubs to monitor replacement cycles and other important data, freeing nurses from those tasks. Leaders selecting such technologies should be wary of proprietary tools that restrict compatibility within a narrow suite of options.
- Predictive analytics tools. These IoT programs were among the most-wanted technologies in 2018; while 53% of hospitals planned to implement them, just 16% of hospitals used them in 2017. Hospitals that rely on IoT services already recognize their value. A 2016 University of Texas Southwestern study examined readmission data from nearly 33,000 patients and found that non-medical factors had a larger-than-expected effect on 30-day readmission rates. Physicians believe data on these factors may be critical in crafting truly effective predictive analytics and risk scores, which in turn will affect the hospital’s future IoT spend. This is a great example of value realization that is independent of longer term shifts in technology.
- Robotic process automation and artificial intelligence. There is clearly a place for RPA, as well as AI in future-state healthcare ecosystems as hyper-repetitive human tasks are transferred to algorithms and secondary data insight generation becomes smarter and more relevant. That said, healthcare organizations do not have a robust selection of either of these spaces yet and face a plethora of choice among point s in the form of startups (and recently acquired startups). Here, limiting the problem set is crucial to ensuring that your company gains clear value from experimental bets. It’s not inherently bad to invest in these tools—you have to juggle long shots with sure(er) bets to be competitive. But be clear and aligned on the intended outcome so you can cancel pilots and re-form your approach rapidly.
Practice a flexible mindset
Piloting emerging technology today doesn’t have a handbook, but it requires explicit guardrails and cohesiveness between internal partners. Start small, but don’t let the difficulty of identifying the right problem(s) to solve delay the start. You’ll hit unexpected roadblocks along the way that will require strategic pivots and adjustments, and your ability to be flexible and goal-oriented will keep key internal partners invested in the project. This is why small-scale IoT trials are helpful—they weed out problems that would otherwise impede effective scaling or lead executives to hesitate about making system wide changes.
IoT in healthcare will fundamentally impact the way we manage and guarantee the health and wellness of populations. Until that point, however, leaders who learn by testing and focus on designing the right problems have a distinct advantage.
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