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Home Invasion: Internet of Things, Economics and Health

 3 min read / 

The Internet of Things (IoT) is now a member of the family. It is a done deal. There is no turning back.  If there is a connected device sitting on the counter helping to order groceries or checking the weather, the IoT has already made a consumer’s house its home.

How would one feel about one of these devices knowing a lot more about you?

Intimate Knowledge

Today, there are records of a person’s favourite ice cream or their proclivity to order high-end cheeses.  Tomorrow, the IoT could measure heart rates, weight, whether a person has fallen and cannot get up, and share all this information with their provider or health plan.

Depending on the point of view, sending this information over the internet to a healthcare provider is a panacea or akin to a home invasion by robots.

The IoT has the power to help improve health outcomes if providers and patients get involved. It turns out even with all the technology available today this is what patients want: physician involvement. Seventy-five per cent of healthcare consumers want to create a partnership with their doctor. One where they can be a part of the decisions made about their care.

Fifty per cent of people use an exercise app to monitor their health. For most, this information is private. But would they be willing to share that information with their doctors? How about with their health plan? Would they share that information if they got paid?

Keeping Track

Healthcare consumers love their digital toys and enjoy keeping tabs on their heart rate and the number of steps they take each day. In a March 2016 HealthMine survey, 50% of consumers said they were using a fitness/exercise app. Thirty-five per cent said they used a nutrition app.

The challenge for the healthcare industry is getting healthcare consumers to do something with this information. Behavioural economics is, essentially, the study of getting people to do things by using incentives. For healthcare, researchers often look at getting people to:

  • Take prescribed medication
  • Fill prescriptions
  • Exercise

Not Taking Care

Healthcare consumers collect gigabytes of data about their heart rate, exercise routines and more because technology makes it effortless. But if they have to exert some energy to take medication, eat less fatty food or exercise, strenuous activities, will they do anything about it?

Research says “no.” The problem, researchers find time after time, is that people, in general, do not necessarily like doing things to improve health if it takes much effort. In a randomised trial of heart attack survivors, patients who received wireless pill bottles to use as a medication reminder, potential financial incentives and social support were no more likely than the control group to reduce the possibility of future hospitalisations or lower future hospital costs.

While the IoT can be the bridge between doctors and patients, it is hard to predict how or if health outcomes will be impacted. Even when providers offer feedback and health improvement tips, patients are often reluctant to implement the ideas in everyday life. As a whole, patients are sending mixed messages.

One can only hope that in the future a combination of technology, social supports, incentives and other methods will help everyone make better choices and improve their health.

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