Hospitals and health services around the globe are under immense pressure. In the UK, as of the Eurostat regional yearbook 2013, the last time the data was aggregated, there were just 2.71 doctors per 1000 people. Taking into consideration population growth, and the consequences of having ageing population, these figures have probably not improved much in the past two years.

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Healthcare services’ needs never seem to be satisfied, bed shortages are only the tip of the iceberg. There is also the issue of ageing technology that has to be replaced – and staffing continues to be a problem as services are not expanded to account for growing populations. Temporary staffing solutions are employed to fill the gaps in the rota, but how effective is this really? It became apparent at the beginning of June 2015 that staffing agencies are ‘ripping off the NHS’ by charging up to £3500 a shift for agency doctors.

“There will always be a need for agency staff… but they should be there for those times when there is a cold snap, when there’s a flu outbreak, when you have sudden spike in demand you couldn’t predict,” Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said.

Patients are 15% more likely to die if they are admitted to hospital on a Sunday than a Wednesday, Hunt said on July 16, 2015. This is due in part to the staffing problems health services encounter over the weekend, but I have to wonder if this could relate to the long standing issue with doctors’ handwriting being illegible, and paperwork being notoriously easy to mix up. Digital health documents have already started to conquer this hurdle.

IoT could be the answer to Jeremy Hunt’s woes.

In 2008 The Academy of Royal Medical Colleges found that “The quality of medical record keeping in the UK is highly variable across the NHS. The layout of admission, handover and discharge proformas is very different between hospitals and clinical departments and many do not use proformas. This variability is largely because doctors learn how to take a medical history by apprenticeship rather than the application of a standard record structure.”

These findings led to move to create a standardised version of the structure and content of medical records. In 2013 NHS England set itself challenging targets, for completely paperless communications between primary and secondary care by 2015, and a wholly paperless NHS by 2018. By standardising, and digitising all medical data, big data analytics will be able to work as it was intended – to better our lives. If all medical data coming out of a borough in London is trending towards a spike in lung problems, we can see that air quality is an issue, and address it before more residents become unwell. 

On July 16 2015, Hunt said that within 5 years he expects seamless access to electronic health records which can be shared and the introduction of new medical devices which can send emergency alerts to ensure ambulances arrive quicker. If you have a heart condition, and are wearing a monitoring band that can summon an ambulance as soon as it detects an issue, you’re probably much less likely to be found dead on your living room floor.

IoT could be the answer to Jeremy Hunt’s woes. Many patients need appointments for minimal checkups on their blood pressure and heart rate, IoT devices have the ability to minimise contact time between patient and doctor. Something as simple as a wristband or chest strap can monitor the patient’s target areas, and record and transmit the data for analysis. In the circumstance that blood pressure or heart rate became elevated, both the doctor and the patient could be notified automatically. This would prompt the requirement for an appointment, rather than having frequent appointments for something that can be monitored remotely. Companies such as Ohmatex are exhibiting prototypes of IoT smart textiles including a stocking that measures peripheral oedema, which is common in patients suffering from heart or kidney failure.

Daniel Thomas has spoken his thoughts on big data and medicine previously, particularly that a key part of medical care is human interaction. Recovery is bolstered by the support of family, along with cups of tea or course. If we could improve the way technology in hospitals is used to monitor patients, support staff would be able to spend more time on the personal aspects of healthcare.

Robotics are progressing rapidly, and in a few years time personal healthcare companions like “Baymax” from Big Hero Six might be a reality. Japan already has giant RIBA bots that look like teddybears. With these improvements in support, and the developments we are seeing in big data, medicine will be a completely different game within the next decade. IoT and big data will change the way we seek and receive medical care.

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