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Enable deeper connections with patients through medical IoT

It should come as no surprise that the internet of things (IoT) has tremendous potential to transform healthcare. Consumers are already familiar with IoT wearables, such as smartwatches and fitness bands, that enable them to track and improve their health at home. But at-home monitoring is just the start. Today, healthcare organizations are looking at how they can leverage IoT in their patient populations to enhance patient engagement, forge deeper connections, deliver more personalized care experiences, and improve adherence to care plans.

Helsa, one of Sweden’s largest private healthcare companies, recently implemented the Health360 ImagineCare Experience. The solution, from ImagineCare and Tribridge, a DXC Technology company, combines IoT monitoring, a patient engagement app, and care coordination tools to enable healthcare organizations to deliver right-size, right-time care, based on trusted information.

David Turcotte, Microsoft Global Industry Director, sat down with Helsa Regional Manager Jessica Hård Svensson, Helsa District Nurse Marie Blomster, and Gustav Hjelmgren, Cofounder of ImagineCare, to discuss how IoT is improving the lives of Helsa patients.

David Turcotte: Tell us about Helsa and the patient population you serve.
Jessica Hård Svensson: Helsa is a healthcare company with fifteen primary care units in Sweden. Our six outpatient units in southern Sweden, which I manage, serve 35,000 patients. As a general primary care practice, we care for the whole family, treating conditions from the common cold to severe chronic diseases.

Before piloting medical IoT, did you experience challenges implementing patient engagement initiatives?
Jessica: Of course! When you see your patients only once or twice a year, it’s very difficult to keep them motivated to stick to their treatment plans. Patients need ongoing engagement to make and maintain the shifts in lifestyle, like diet and exercise, necessary to manage chronic diseases.

I understand your pilot of the Health360 ImagineCare solution is still in its early phases, but you are already leveraging its medical IoT capabilities with select patients. What patient populations have you rolled it out to so far?
Marie Blomster: IoT remote medical sensing is ideal for patients with chronic diseases who need to frequently monitor their vital signs or levels. Right now, we are primarily using IoT for patients with diabetes and hypertension, since these patients need to continually track blood glucose levels and blood pressure. IoT remote medical sensing has improved the quality of care we can offer them.

What results have you seen from implementing IoT for this population?
Marie: Since patients can be monitored remotely with IoT, we have been able to respond much more quickly to undesirable metrics, such as high blood pressure and high blood glucose, which means that we can address potential emergencies before they happen.

Moreover, our doctors can make treatment decisions based on more accurate data. Without IoT, doctors often need to make medication decisions and dosage adjustments based on only one or two blood pressure values. With IoT, on the other hand, hypertension patients can monitor their blood pressure at home every day and automatically transmit the data to their care team, providing our doctors assurance that their medication decisions are based on accurate, representative data.

This has reduced the use of unnecessary medications, for example. Some patients present higher blood pressure in a clinical setting but have normal blood pressure when measured at home. Because our doctors now have the IoT data to see this, they are no longer prescribing blood pressure medications to patients who don’t need them.

Jessica: Moreover, since we engage with patients remotely, we have been able to reduce both planned and unplanned in-person visits to our primary care center.

What feedback have you received from patients on their experience with IoT and the ImagineCare solution?
Marie: Our patients have found IoT data highly motivating. For instance, we’ve given some of our patients IoT fitness trackers to encourage them to exercise more. ImagineCare gamifies exercise for them. They have become competitive around improving their metrics, which has motivated them to exercise more and meet the exercise goals recommended by their doctors.

Gustav Hjelmgren: On our side at ImagineCare, we’ve heard from Helsa patients that they feel much more connected to their care teams and that their care teams better understand their priorities. This closer connection makes them feel more secure. Moreover, because they have an ongoing conversation with their care team, rather than just being seen once or twice a year, there’s more continuity of care over time. This is fundamentally a new way of delivering care and it’s inspiring to see how patients are responding to it.

How do you anticipate IoT data will help you optimize the day-to-day flow of patients when you roll ImagineCare out to the larger population?
Jessica: IoT data will help us identify the high-risk patients who really need to be seen in person, so that we can prioritize them when scheduling appointments. That way we can focus on the patients who need in-person care. The rest of our patients—those who are in a place where they can effectively self-manage their care—we can engage with via the ImagineCare app. This will help us overcome a key healthcare challenge: the growing population of senior citizens coupled with the shortage of healthcare workers.

This will also be useful for managing the care of patients who are particularly anxious about their health. Because we will be able to monitor them and keep a close connection through ImagineCare, we hope they will feel less anxious and not feel the need to visit the clinic as frequently.

Are there other specific populations that you expect will see major benefits from IoT?
Gustav: There are a number of patient groups at Helsa with whom we are looking to use IoT. Beyond diabetes and hypertension, we see significant potential for IoT to benefit patients with chronic conditions like asthma, congestive heart failure, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Why did you choose ImagineCare over other IoT solutions on the market?
Jessica: The deciding factor was that ImagineCare is more complete than other applications on the market. Most IoT applications are designed to be used for only a very small sub-segment of the patient population. ImagineCare struck us as much more applicable to a wide range of patients, both those with specific chronic diseases and the general population. The connection between ImagineCare and Microsoft was also an attraction.

Gustav: We feel that Microsoft shares ImagineCare’s values and our ambition to create a new way to deliver care based on the preferences of each patient. A benefit of our relationship with Microsoft is that we partner with them to make ongoing improvements. For instance, right now we’re talking to Microsoft about how to add more AI and machine learning to the solution to enhance its intelligence. Microsoft also connects us to industry-leading partners to further enhance our total healthcare offering.

What do you anticipate for the future of IoT in healthcare and specifically at Helsa?
Jessica: I expect the technology and its applications in healthcare to become increasingly sophisticated, and we hope to keep Helsa on the cutting edge. Most importantly, though, I anticipate we will continue to use IoT and digital engagement strategies in combination with in-person care as a way to enhance the human connection at the heart of care, rather than replace it.

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