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Engage Consumers June 23, 2015

Observations on the Internet of Things & Healthy Behavior Change

Partner, Oliver Wyman

Wired covered last week how the new Nest app taps into the “Internet of Things” (IoT) to serve as the “command center for all your gadgets” at home. The IoT connected device conceit as it applies to healthcare can be thought of as the capability to link physical, digital, and social assets to create an increasingly full picture of individuals’ habits and changes in behavior.The technology is inspiring new economic partnerships and financial opportunities. Oliver Wyman’s John Coyle, who leads Strategic Information Technology & Operations for Health & Life Sciences, joins with the Health Services team to explore the promise of IoT for health:

Today when we talk about consumer engagement, we wonder at the possibility of driving lasting behavioral change that will help people to live better, and most in the industry are daunted by the possibility of influencing the “non-sick” and unengaged. It is accepted as fact that helping people to do better with the fundamentals of living – eating better, sleeping better, increasing physical and mental activity, and nurturing healthy relationships – are all key to living well and longer. Most further agree that such lifestyle changes would address much of the healthcare costs in the current system.

Helping people to live better and change fundamental behaviors, regardless of level of engagement, is a vision that has yet to be realized. Wellness programs are generally ineffective. Wearable technologies and quantified self “gadgetry” have yet to prove their value. In healthcare organizations, consumer technology programs are often led by marketing teams instead of care teams. Likewise, wellness programs are still evolving their value proposition. Engagement, while generally measured as low, is still used as a proxy for influence. There is a lot of room for improvement in terms of helping people adopt the lifestyles that will help them live well. Yet, we have to believe that deeper understanding of human behavior, enabled by innovation, will make appropriate influence possible.

At first blush, the Internet of Things manifests as the continuing proliferation of smart devices as more of the consumer technology that we do own, from watches to smartphones, now includes health-aware features. Even ordinary “things” like shirts and socks can be enabled to provide health monitoring abilities. Then there are the new categories of devices that are designed to provide constant, passive monitoring of activity and vital statistics, much of which is focused on the active population. Home health technologies like smart scales are also on the rise and are useful for the well and chronically ill alike.

The IoT can unlock our common understanding of people in ways never before possible. Moreover, it can unlock our understanding of an individual in ways that help them to live in a manner that supports their own health goals. – Oliver Wyman’s John Coyle

These solutions often allow consumers to share health information through social networks with family and friends, potentially changing the role of social networks over time into something much more critical. They also tend to require active participation of the consumer, a purchase, and the constancy and persistence to wear or utilize these devices routinely in the home. At some point, to be sustainable, monitoring devices will fade into the fabric of our lives – quite literally in the case of smart clothes.

There are signs of progress emerging around us. Some providers are using smart devices to lower costs and improve outcomes. Hospital-Acquired Conditions (HACs), especially infections, are one of the top killers of patients in the United States. Implementing something as simple as internet-connected hand-hygiene monitoring can significantly reduce the number of infections acquired by hospitalized patients, some studies have shown. In 2014, OhioHealth partnered with IBM to deploy wireless sensors to gather real-time data about staff hand hygiene habits. Linked to a staff member’s ID badge, the system tags individuals as they enter and leave patient rooms, tallying how many times they visit a hand washing station when they do so. Compliance jumped from 70 percent to more than 90 percent at one of the hospital campuses involved in the program. Behavior change can be influenced through IoT.

What is perhaps most exciting about IoT is the potential for less sophisticated internet-enabled devices – devices which are collectively smart yet individually dumb like the hand-washing station – to transform our ability to understand how people really live, behave, and make decisions. Google’s purchase of Nest is incredibly powerful in adding to the company’s understanding of the consumer. Google has long known about the online lives of its consumers. Android helped them know where you are when you have your phone. The new Nest home technologies help Google to understand more of your life and the people in it. This presents a potential quantum leap in building a consumer data set.

Healthcare has the potential to benefit from riding off of other consumer business’ efforts to create an expansive set of consumer data that allows healthcare to engage consumers as individuals and influence them. One of the greatest potential impacts of the IoT will be to drive the cost of studying a person in detail – throughout their daily life and for extended periods of time – from cost-prohibitive to nearly zero cost. The IoT can unlock our common understanding of people in ways never before possible. Moreover, it can unlock our understanding of an individual in ways that help them to live in a manner that supports their own health goals.

Individual-level insights from this detailed behavior information may be for sale by businesses that have figured out how to get permission from consumers to share seemingly innocuous details that collectively provide a high resolution consumer portrait. Obviously marketers will use that information to find ever compelling and more ingenious ways to marry consumer needs, wants, and unknown-wants with buying opportunities. Healthcare, however, will have the opportunity to use the same insights and tools for good.

That will require healthcare to synthesize such consumer information into their products and services in a way that drives behavioral change to help consumers achieve their own goals, while allowing the healthcare organization to share in the benefits of knowing their customers better than anyone else. Consumer businesses excel at influencing people to need what they never wanted. Hopefully healthcare can use the same tools to help people to make healthier choices that they do want. In the end, IoT will be another leap in our understanding of ourselves, our motivations and will enable practical, little “nudges” that help us to live the lives we want to live.

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