The IoT in healthcare – why is it so long overdue? Part 1
How can the IoT improve and save lives?
I had almost finished writing this two-part blog mid-August. I had even posted the draft onto our web site ready for publication. The morning I was due to publish the first blog in the series I received a call to tell me that my Mum had had a fall getting into bed and was on the floor all night. Fortunately, she had relatives staying with her and they discovered her in the morning and were able to summon help. My Mum had a tele care system installed some years ago but had left her wrist band on the mantle-piece, way out of reach. She didn’t have the strength to get herself up which is why she was on the floor all night.
My Mum lived around 130 miles away from me and it was not the easiest place for me to get to in an emergency. Once the alarm was raised the tele care company came out to get my Mum back up into a chair but were not allowed to call an ambulance until the doctor had visited. The doctor eventually arrived some hours later and following a cursory examination immediately arranged for an ambulance to take my Mum into hospital where she was taken into the resuscitation unit in a very poor state. As a result of my Mum’s determination combined with the amazing work of the doctors and nurses my Mum defied the specialists and was sitting up and talking by the time I arrived.
My Mum survived another 13 days and although she was in hospital she was comfortable and had family with her throughout this time. As sad a time as this is, it would have been much worse if she had ended her days alone on the floor and unable to summon help. It was by pure chance she was discovered as she rarely had family staying with her. Many old people are not so fortunate. The real tragedy is, none of this has to be left to chance as a simple pressure mat, some behavioural monitoring software and some analytics in the Cloud could have automatically assessed the situation and raised the alarm and alerted the relevant healthcare professionals within minutes. This exact scenario was featured in one of the articles that inspired my blog series, which is much more poignant now. My original blog continues.
“Andrew’s blog uncovered some shocking facts around “unexplained” care home deaths, significant fines for serious ‘events’, many reports of multiple fire deaths and many more horrifying accounts.”
I a recent article on the Daily Mail web site about a national dementia care lottery map with some alarming results. (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-3742352/New-NHS-dementia-map-reveals-alarming-gulf-standards.html). This reminded me of a very interesting and thought provoking article on Linkedin by Andrew Gunn some time ago. The article was highlighting the continued lack of innovation and adoption of IoT assistive technologies across the many care homes in the United Kingdom. Andrew’s blog uncovered some shocking facts around “unexplained” care home deaths, significant fines for serious ‘events’, many reports of multiple fire deaths and many more horrifying accounts. Andrew points out that care homes are being affected by a lack of holistic innovation and he gives valid reasons as to why – in an age of low cost IoT devices and Cloud services – this is inexcusable.
A year or so ago I spent most of my time in and around hospitals. When my daughter suffered a brain injury she needed full time monitoring and care and this level of ‘service’ was not available in the general ward where she had been placed. Even less so over Christmas and New Year when she was at her worst. When Karen was first admitted she was in the Critical Care Unit with 24/7 care with a dedicated nurse assigned to her bed side. For the following two months she was in a general ward with a significantly reduced nurse to patient ratio. Karen has Autism and at the time could not move or communicate in any way and was extremely distressed. Having to deal with this type of situation is extremely traumatic for anyone but worse still for someone with special needs.
“The same thought crossed my mind every time I walked past the banner… When?”
I was living in hospital beside my daughter for most of the first two months from mid-December 2014 through to mid-February 2015, with some support from family and friends providing cover to allow me to recharge my batteries. It was very tough for all of us involved, totally disrupting our lives but it was an essential ingredient – acknowledged by the medical team – in Karen’s recovery.
While in the acute hospital apart from the general ongoing care Karen required we also prevented her suffering as a result of two overdoses and a case of mistaken identity. The two near overdoses were the result of a misinterpretation of her drugs chart. On both occasions the near overdose was 10 times the required dose with potentially very serious consequences.
These were not the only near misses when Karen was in the acute hospital. On another occasion she was mistaken for someone else and was about to taken down to theatre to have a line put into her neck. At the time she was unable to communicate effectively and was unable to raise the alarm. The theatre staff mistook her distress for a fear of having to have an operation. Luckily, I had only left her for 10 minutes to get a coffee and I arrived back to see her being wheeled out of her side ward and just in front of me a healthcare assistant running to stop them wheeling my daughter away. This incident and the near overdoses compelled me to ensure there was someone with her at all times.
While walking back and forth to the hospital restaurant for my meals and coffee breaks I passed a pull up banner left in the corridor by a large organisation supplying IT services to the hospital. The banner stated that this organisation was working in partnership with the hospital delivering the Internet of Things to improve people’s lives. The same thought crossed my mind every time I walked past the banner… When? Also, bearing in mind the hospital did not have a pervasive wireless network and unless you happened to be by a window you would be very lucky to get a mobile signal, I wondered, how?
The Internet of Things isn’t new now and it wasn’t new in December 2014. However, it was being marketed as if it was new. I remember a fascinating keynote speaker from British Telecom’s research laboratories at a conference back in 2001. He talked us through the concepts and some hypothetical examples of what we now refer to as the Internet of Things. I found it fascinating hearing how these advancements in technology would transform our lives. I imagined by now we would all benefit from these developments and pro-active healthcare monitoring would be the norm.
So what has happened since then? I have to admit I haven’t spent a lot of time researching to see where the IoT is already impacting on our healthcare and well-being because I know of so many examples where this is still painfully lacking. However, I have heard of some great examples IoT applications monitoring trees, cattle, sauce bottles, lamp posts, vehicles, containers, and many, many more. If the IoT is making a big impact in health and social care maybe it is just the best well-kept secret in the history of technology?
Some years after the truly inspiring British Telecom presentation, in the second half of the 2000s I was involved in a consortium bidding to develop an automated tele care solution. The consortium comprised health monitoring specialists, an NHS trust, a specialist software developer and Astro. We were responsible for providing the voice, video and telemetry communications facility to integrate all of these technologies over a single communications facility. More on this in the second part of this blog.
Dail Mail – Dementia Care Lottery Exposed
Andrew Gunn – Inexcusable, a lack of digital innovation in healthcare provision