Next time you get your annual physical, will the internet of things play a role in that checkup? Maybe. But what could that look like? IoT plays a role in a multitude of industries and verticals, we have heard how IoT will impact how John Deere helps farmers, how it impacts the way GE and Rolls-Royce manage their fleets of planes, and how ExxonMobile is using IoT to remotely monitor its facilities. The future of IoT has the potential for great influence on our personal wellbeing, but it will face some major hurdles.
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First let us look at where IoT hold the possibility to impact our daily well-being.
IoT is bringing greater insights into what we consume and how it impacts our lives. OK, this might be a little too Big Brother for you, but the reality is our homes are becoming even more connected to the grid than before. This connectivity is moving well beyond devices such as the Nest thermostat or connected doorbells, with the increase presence of digital assistants in the form of Amazon Alexa or Google Home and the ever-increasing connectivity for appliances, such as our refrigerators, washing machines and even connected toilets. What this translates to will be homes that will be able to monitor our activity on an hourly basis. Your doctor has you on a low-cholesterol diet? Soon enough your doctor will be able to read data from the pantry and monitor whether you are truly cutting down on the potato chips and steak.
As we connect our homes and ourselves, we can do a better job tracking healthy lifestyles. By some estimates, there will be four times as many mobile devices as there are actual humans on the planet within the next few years. We have already witnessed the breathtaking pace of smartphone adoption. Now we are seeing the rise of wearables such as the Fitbit and Apple Watch. Soon, connected clothing will become more mainstream, as we see brands such as Under Armour, Adidas, Nike and New Balance putting more investments in the space. Technology giants such as Apple and Google have integrated health applications into their mobile operating systems. Many of these connected devices have leaned on gamification to incentivize us to allow them to track how fast we ran our 10k or how many steps we have taken daily. Companies such as Athos are even providing connected clothing to monitor and coach us when we are lifting weights. All this activity information is creating massive personal profiles that our doctors will be able to tap into, getting a much more accurate insight into our activities — and by extension, our health. And it is not just our doctors who might use that data to judge us. Insurance providers are starting to offer perks, such as lower premiums to customers who share fitness tracker data to prove they are living healthy lifestyles.
A more connected medical network
One of the biggest issues with our medical industry is in the timely and accurate exchange of vital information. Will IoT solve this issue? No, but it could begin to shine more light on a process that is otherwise in the dark. As our persons, homes, cars and appliances become more connected, these nodes will become integrated into a wider network that is connected to our medical network. The information flowing between the nodes will continuously provide a much richer and fuller picture of our environment, our activities and possible issues. All this data could be tied back into a connected medical network, where your primary care provider would gain a much richer and in-depth view of you and your well-being. The network would be a first line of digital information, pulling data together for yourself or your healthcare partners, insurers or even personal trainers to provide a single view of your overall health. It could help eliminate all the paperwork and repetitive discussions that take place between an individual and their many different providers, leading to better conversations about healthcare and ultimately producing better, more personalized outcomes.
The pitfalls and potential of IoT
This all sounds great, right? But what are the possible pitfalls? Privacy is the main area of concern. When it comes to connectivity, the closer it gets to our person; as the sensors get closer to us, the more sensitive we must be with regards to the consumers’ privacy. The data becomes more personal. While having greater connectivity can bring great benefits, there is also the risk of consumers having a backlash against the greater sharing of private information. Society is struggling with the balance between having access to more data versus privacy. What is the line that we are not willing to cross when it comes to more data versus less privacy? This might be determined on an individual basis, but the network must be ready to handle this question.
While the possibilities inspire hope for a healthier, more digitally connected future, there is still some work to be done for it to become reality. Many companies working within the IoT space are focused on one specific product and its use case in the home or as a fitness tracker. But it creates a challenging ecosystem of disparate data and systems that do not necessarily connect. As with many business models, we may eventually see a network emerge that brings all of the data from these connected devices onto one platform, acting as a translator for our providers (and ourselves) and helping to draw a single version of the truth. At that point, we can begin to realize the potential for these connected devices to truly make a difference in our long-term well-being.
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