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Big Data and IoT: How Can They Improve Our Health?

Thursday 28 January 2016

Big Data and IoT

Big Data and IoT (Internet of Things) are appearing in an increasing number of conversations about technology and healthcare in 2016, but what do these terms mean? More importantly, how can they help us improve our health?

Xenon Health describe the IoT as ‘a phenomenon through which the operational aspects of the physical world become increasingly integrated with digital platforms, enabling information to move seamlessly toward the computational resources that are able to make sense of it.’ Big Data is a similar concept – it signifies the amount of data that is being created at an exponential rate on a daily basis.

Big Data and IoT have made significant impact on many industries so far this decade, but healthcare seems to have struggled to keep up. The shift towards IoT is, however, slowly beginning to be seen, and sizeable amounts of available patient data are now starting to inform decision making processes within healthcare organisations.

So now we have to ask: how can Big Data and IoT affect the NHS and our own wellbeing?

Prevention rather than treatment

The NHS’ focus on prevention rather than treatment has been making national headlines over the last couple of years due to the execution of Simon Stevens’ Five Year Forward View. A key pillar of this plan is to address preventable cases of illness such as cancer and diabetes before they become life-threatening.

Technology such as our BI software CXAIR has the power to store and analyse huge data sets – when applied to healthcare data, this can improve the ability to anticipate and treat illnesses, recognising individuals who are at risk of serious health problems.

Identifying these issues early means that admissions to hospital are reduced – the number of ‘bed-days lost’ therefore also decreases, along with the already-tight NHS budget being spent on avoidable patient admissions.

The NHS needs to learn as much about its patients as it possibly can in order to foresee any symptoms or hereditary features that could result in serious illnesses. If armed with enough patient-generated data, as will be possible with the advent of Big Data, serious illnesses can be prevented or diagnosed early enough that treatment is simple and effective.

Wearable devices

Big data and IoT WearablesSo we’ve recognised that prevention is better than treatment and that Big Data can allow professionals to make informed decisions regarding our health, but what about IoT?

For years there have been thousands of apps that let us count the calories we consume and measure the steps we take, but the recent explosion of ‘wearable devices’ means that there are now even more ways to track our health and diet.

Wearable devices such as the Fitbit are useful as they utilise the IoT, allowing us to track individual progress as well as uploading the data to be measured alongside that of others’.

The majority of us make our health-based decisions outside of a medical setting, and so wearable devices are particularly useful in allowing us to make sensible, informed-decisions that will best impact our wellbeing.

What are the potential risks?

Before we go singing the praises of Big Data and the IoT, a bit of caution is needed. Will our privacy be compromised if all of our personal health data is interconnected and easily accessible? Will the systems that hold our personal data become more vulnerable as they become more interoperable? How do we know that it’s safe?

We can’t ignore the staged Fitbit hacking of last year. According to researchers, just by using the open Bluetooth connection of the device an attacker could send malware to a Fitbit nearby, which could then be transferred to any PC the device made contact with. Fitbit have since denied that the security faults were an issue, but we are left with a slight concern about the safety of our personal data.

techUK have begun a potential solution by introducing their Interoperability Charter for companies involved in healthcare data to sign, ensuring that there are clear responsibilities for players in the ecosystem and that there are national standards for interoperable data. The goal is to ensure that all devices within a certain network can work collaboratively and communicate both safely and effectively.

The amount of data produced globally is predicted to increase annually by 4300% by 2020. Big Data and IoT are consequently set to vastly increase in importance, responding quickly and efficiently to the changing needs of a nation of patients.

 

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