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Why city leaders must champion the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) to tackle the ticking global healthcare timebomb

Cities play a growing role in improving the health of the general public.


There’s no escaping the fact that when it comes to the delivery of healthcare, we’re facing a growing global problem.


The financial and human resources needed to deliver healthcare safely and effectively are stretched to the limit – Deloitte predicts healthcare spending globally will grow by 4.2 per cent per year to $8.7 trillion by 2020. This prediction highlights how the cost of healthcare will become prohibitive to most unless new approaches are adopted.


While looking at the impact technology can have on cutting these costs, it’s easy to focus on healthcare providers, but cities are playing a growing role in improving the health of the general public.


Health is often a core value in a city’s political and social arena – so much so that the World Health Organization (WHO) identified strong local leadership as an essential prerequisite for putting health on the agenda as part of its Healthy Cities Movement.


Leaders are increasingly focusing on environment, quality of life and sanitation as essential to citizens’ health, taking the onus away from healthcare providers and shifting focus from cure to prevention.


City leaders need to engage with emerging technologies to tackle the ticking global healthcare timebomb.


The Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) will be key to this movement, and as such, city leaders need to engage with these emerging technologies to tackle the ticking global healthcare timebomb.


The challenges of an ageing population


The biggest contributor to the challenges facing healthcare is the ageing population, which is putting unprecedented pressure on resources. Worldwide, it’s expected there will be two billion people over 60 by 2050 – of which 21 per cent will be over 80.


In the EU, 18 per cent of the current population is over the age of 65, and this will increase to one in four by 2025. Closer to home, the NHS currently spends around 40 per cent of its total budget on people over 65.


As our ageing population continues its upward trend, it’s imperative that local government and city leaders act now to look at new approaches for delivering vital services to people. In fact, this may require a whole shift of approach towards a system based on preventative measures and education, with an increased focus on wellbeing, community, independent living and, of course, access to routine care – rather than one which is heavily burdened by providing immediate cures and treatments.


In recent years, charities such as Age UK have expressed that promotion of healthy and active lives will rely on strong community leadership to improve healthcare services. This includes strategic commissioning and – crucially – equal access to age-friendly services. It’s this intersection in which the IoMT can have its biggest impact.


In our age of connected devices, our health and social care providers have the technology available to help us rise to the challenge. When it comes to putting prevention at the heart of healthcare, championing new technological approaches will become increasingly important for delivering patient care that is cost-effective, less labour-intensive and, most importantly, meets individual patient needs.


The role of the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT)


Smart cities and the Internet of Things (IoT) have transformed the way we manage, think about and interact with our urban environments. Applying this same logic and approach to the delivery of local health and social services is vital if we’re to continue offering a sustainable service.


The Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) is set to play a huge role in making this a reality, given current and future challenges. In fact, the evolution of such technology for medical purposes couldn’t have come at a better time.


It’s estimated that there are already 3.7 million connected medical devices and systems in play today, with predictions that the global IoMT market will reach $137 billion worldwide by 2021. This gives an indication of how much healthcare services will become reliant on technology.


What’s more, it shows that there will be an increasing need to get technological innovations aimed at the healthcare sector to the market as quickly as possible, bringing innovators together with key city decision-makers to pilot new ways of working.


As we strive to connect innovators with city decision-makers, we must look at the role of technology and devolution in providing better services.


As we strive to connect innovators with city decision-makers, we must look at the role of technology and devolution in providing better services.


If policymakers give cities increased fiscal and regulatory freedoms, local authorities can invest in technology that will better target problem areas within our communities.


As outlined in the recent Ericsson From Healthcare to Homecare report, the IoMT will play a key role in decentralising hospital-based care; support the centralisation of patient data; and enable patients to be reliably and continuously monitored via wearable technology – giving them greater access to remote care in their own communities.


Technology in practice: Supporting prevention before cure


If we take wearable technologies alone, there is a huge opportunity to reduce costs and promote the ‘prevention over cure’ agenda. What’s more, the flexibility and improvement in care that can be provided to patients will be substantial.


Early detection of patient deterioration and avoidable deaths will be an overarching benefit of the IoMT and those wearable technologies it integrates with.


When it comes to cost saving, it’s predicted that if only five per cent of high-risk patients are continuously and autonomously monitored via wearable technology, a saving of €4.3 million could result per 30,000 admissions. We know that across the EU there are approximately 180 million hospital admissions every year. Based on the cost saving of wearable technology within an IoMT ecosystem, this could result in a saving of approximately €26 billion.


In April 2017, four in ten patients admitted to accident and emergency units were not being reviewed quickly enough. In the previous year there were 15,722 deaths in hospital or within 30 days of discharge. A prime factor in these deaths was attributed to staff shortages and inadequate monitoring.


This illustrates the vast opportunity presented by the IoMT and wearable devices in the UK and beyond – given the technology now available, a significant number of these deaths could have been avoided.


Luckily, wearable technology is now being explored and invested in. For instance, the EU H2020-funded Nightingale programme is challenging industry to improve patient safety by developing systems that can accurately identify patients at risk of deterioration and thus deliver all the associated benefits that such an ability would bring.


This programme has demonstrated just how the IoMT can level the innovation playing field, with UK-based start-up Sentinel Biosensors Ltd competing against large corporates with its trial of a wearable device that will monitor patients every 120 seconds and which uses AI to compare vital signs and advise care providers on prognosis and management.


Infrastructure developments in the sphere of 5G connectivity will also play a huge role in making the IoMT more accessible and more reliable for our local governments, service providers and their patients.


For instance, it will bring greater scope for remote patient monitoring, and give patients the flexibility to perform vital tests and measurements from their own home – saving valuable staff and financial resources, particularly within our hospitals.


In addition, it will also bring greater patient comfort and satisfaction given that they won’t have to be on hospital premises to receive care – a real benefit for patients with challenges relating to mobility.


With the evolution of the IoMT, healthcare services will come to act as huge repositories of data, which local government will one day be able to both utilise and feed into to provide better and more strategic care.


What’s more, with the evolution of the IoMT, healthcare services will come to act as huge repositories of data, which local government will one day be able to both utilise and feed into to provide better and more strategic care.


With this rich data from connected applications and devices, healthcare professionals will be able to provide an even greater level of objective reporting when it comes to patient diagnostics.


Using the right technology, healthcare professionals and other key services will have the data they need to make better-informed decisions using objective reporting together with more subjective patient feedback.


This will not only speed up the diagnosis of patients, it will also help local authorities play a more strategic role alongside hospitals and healthcare providers when it comes to the administration of treatments and services.


The IoMT: The road to better health


The IoMT, along with the devices, sensors and applications it integrates with has the power to change how healthcare is provided, monitored and prioritised – but it won’t be without challenges.


Like many industries, the healthcare sector is subject to very stringent regulations due to its structure. As a result, the adoption of IoMT will not come in the form of an immediate switch over driven by strong leadership, but more of the continued evolution of what we’re already starting to see.


That’s not to say that city leaders shouldn’t be championing the cause – their influence is what’s going to keep the momentum. Although the road to fully integrated IoMT will be one of slower transition, the long-term benefits could, in time, drastically improve our nation’s health.


With all their resources, increasing powers and – quite frankly – the need to care for their ever-growing aging populations, it’s the role of our city leaders to push the prevention over cure agenda to better the lives of each and every one of us.


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