Through smart home hubs and the growing Internet of Things, people can now control lights, thermostats and other appliances and get information and entertainment with their always-connected digital devices. Consumers have widely adopted home automation products like Nest from Google and ecosystems like Apple’s HomeKit and Amazon’s Alexa.
But home hubs also have the potential to achieve the promise of connected health — access to health care services anywhere and anytime.
Home hubs can deliver enormous value as a means of health care delivery — not just helping casual consumers become familiar with their health and take preventive measures, but also helping manage complex care for patients with chronic illness and supporting timely decision making by clinical teams. Everybody involved with a person’s care can be plugged in, enabling coordination across providers and caregivers in a way that’s increasingly intuitive and meaningful.
Portable, mobile health care
Connected health care is driven by a convergence of mega trends: changing demographics leading to growing health care needs; expanding health care coverage coupled with efforts to control costs, driven by regulations like the Affordable Care Act; and the disruptive growth of digital devices and information services that are empowering consumers.
Wearables like Fitbit were the first step, fueling an increasing interest in health and wellness tracking that seamlessly integrates into people’s lifestyles. Traditional home hubs like Qualcomm’s 2Net have begun aggregating and securely transmitting biometric data gathered by a growing number of sensors and medical devices, connecting patients and health care providers.
And now we are beginning to see consumer-oriented home hubs, targeted for home infotainment, acting as portals for health care delivery.
Amazon’s Alexa-powered Echo is a prime example of this trend. New skills like KidsMD, added in partnership with Boston Children’s Hospital, can deliver guidelines about common symptoms like fever as well as medication dosing recommendations. Leveraging these connected home hubs, consumers will begin to do their own frontline triage:
Home hubs will also become central to managing care at home for patients with chronic conditions and for the elderly. Augmenting existing remote monitoring devices, home hubs can deliver health reminders, allow patients to order services and provide insights to clinical teams by analyzing patient-reported outcomes and other clinical data captured at home with the intelligence and processing power of cloud computing. This can result in more timely interventions, better follow-up care and increased clinical efficiencies.
The next level: Home health care robots, virtual reality, voice interfaces
Humanoids and personal robots like Pepper and Jibo will become central to the experience of and engagement with connected health. Pepper’s mood tracking and Jibo’s goal to humanize a robot for the household will enable lots of health care applications, such as reminders about medications or lack of physical activity. Gaming-oriented systems like Microsoft’s Xbox and virtual/augmented reality platforms like HoloLens have the potential to extend health care applications to engage consumers in physical activity and present personalized health education via engaging holograms.
Powered by machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI) interfaces like IBM Watson and Cortana Intelligence Suite can provide insights and recommendations to consumers based on their medical history, making health care services delivered through the home hubs more meaningful.
Voice interfaces pioneered by Apple’s Siri, Google Now, Microsoft Cortana and Amazon Alexa and advances in natural language processing allow consumers to converse with their home hubs and get information and insights in an intuitive fashion. The upcoming AI-enabled “bots” in the cloud will guide consumers through their queries and route them to proper interventions.
Realizing the promise of connected health
As they become more intuitive and convenient, home health hubs have the promise to promote proactive interventions and healthier living. Several challenges remain: understanding the user experience, ensuring continuous engagement, delivering truly meaningful and trustworthy information and demonstrating a positive impact for consumers and clinicians. The key challenge will be integrating these connected mediums into the broader delivery of care.
Eventually, connected health care through home hubs like Amazon Echo will allow for learning health systems in which patients and providers manage health care proactively. This innovation in home health hubs will further personalize the health care experience and deliver superior health outcomes for patients and consumers.
Nitin Gujral is Director of Software Development with the Innovation & Digital Health Accelerator Program (IDHA) at Boston Children’s Hospital.