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The Internet of Patients and Why All Things Should Connect to People

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Believe it or not, the concept of the Internet of Things (or “Internet of Everything”) has been around for about 25 years.  The idea is that objects can communicate with each other in an ‘internet-like’ structure.  Marketing spins on this concept are common, but one new take from that caught my attention recently was “The Internet of Caring Things – why consumers will embrace connected objects with a clear mission: to actively care for them.”

With terrific design style, the briefing describes how the Internet of Things is maturing and sharpening focus: from random ideas like fridges that people can tweet from to addressing what people really care about: physical health and mental wellbeing, safety and security, and connection to loved ones.

The briefing quotes Gartner’s estimate of 30 billion connected devices by 2020 (most are not PCs, smartphones, or tablets) as well as Cisco’s fun fact that 100 things are coming online every second.  Four forces are paving the way for an even greater explosion of the Internet of Things in 2014: cheaper and more efficient wireless connectivity chips, rising adoption of cloud storage, ultra-precise geo-location, and the crowd funding revolution.  Some cool examples are: a smart cup that allows users to track hydration levels, a smart fitness suite that visualizes muscle activity, smart devices that monitor family members in their home, and a smart jacket that lets parents give remote ‘hugs’ (admittedly, this last one borders on creepy to our current social sensibilities but these can change quickly.)

This is neat stuff for patient-consumers, but how can we ensure that all of this valuable data is appropriately used to its fullest potential by patients as well as formal health system providers and payers?  Health IT planners have long strived to avoid the potential quagmire of data silos in large numbers of non-interoperable systems.   Does this explosion of caring consumer devices threaten to exacerbate such a quagmire?

NexJ Founder and CEO, Bill Tatham, has long advocated for solutions to focus on connecting all things to patients rather than connecting all nodes in health care ecosystems to each other.  This view was most recently validated by Microsoft’s Senior Director of Worldwide Health.  Patients need access to trusted solutions that can hold and aggregate all of the data from their personal health technologies as well as their formal care provision.  They should have the ability and right to share their personal health information with their inter-professional care team as well as their informal communities of support.

This people-centered model of connecting all patient information to the patient achieves dramatic simplification over attempting to connect every system to every system.  To date, it is the only robust strategy I’m aware of that will conceivably manage the continuing exponential growth in new consumer health technologies.