The Internet of Medical Things

Contributor: Josh Stein, WG’12
To learn more about Josh, click here.


maxresdefault.pngIf you were to make an informal list of the companies that were the most revolutionary, transformative, and successful throughout the past decade, which ones would you list at the top? Chances are you’d select powerhouse tech firms like Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, and Netflix. Maybe you’d also include some earlier-stage companies, like Uber or Airbnb. Now of course there are hundreds of other firms that could be on this hypothetical list as well. But instead of debating those points, let’s focus on the similarities of the aforementioned companies.

They’re all in tech. On average, they’ve been in existence for under 20 years. They’ve created products or services that many of us use each day. They’ve transformed industries like advertising, communication, commerce, entertainment, and travel. And if we boil it down, we eventually see an overarching commonality: they’ve all created wonderful products that consistently evolve and improve to meet the needs of their users.

Now this concept may not be novel, but the way these firms accomplish it is. These companies collect an immense amount of data about how customers use their products – and they leverage these data to ensure their products evolve in the right direction. These companies know how the user interacts with their site or device, how long the user uses their product, when the user uses their product, and why the user stops using their product.

Now, let’s compare this level of insight to the information that’s available for pharmaceutical companies to leverage about their products. Pharma companies spend billions developing new drugs – and billions marketing them once they’re approved. Yet pharma companies don’t have the granular real-world insights into how patients use their drugs, when patients use their drugs, or why patients stop using their drugs. If pharma had these insights, the possibilities and new market opportunities would be immense.

With regard to healthcare, there are infinite ways in which IoT tools can be used to improve patient care - and it's happening sooner than you might think. In the past few years, we've seen the emergence of connected medical devices such as smart heart rate monitors, blood pressure cuffs, glucometers, asthma inhalers, thermometers, and pill bottles. Let's call this "the Internet of Medical Things" (IoMT), which describes the emergence of Internet-connected devices to improve the lives of users.

I recently gave a TEDMED Talk about this very topic. My main point is that smart medical devices must be incredibly easy for patients to use in order to facilitate mass adoption. This is a simple and important notion, yet it is too often ignored within the IoMT.

However, understanding and leveraging this obvious concept can lead to success and a sustainable business model, as we have learned at AdhereTech. This idea has guided every design and user-experience feature that we have built. We have even distilled this philosophy into three design principles, which we refer to each day: 

  1. The device must work the moment the patient gets it, with no set-up, no assembly, no downloads, and no synching required.
  2. The device should be used in the exact same way as the regular non-connected version of the device, so it's simple for the user.
  3. The battery in the device should last for as long as possible - ideally multiple months - without needing to be recharged (our smart pill bottles last 6 full months per charge).

AdhereTech’s smart pill bottles have been used by healthcare companies since 2013. Our solution is currently distributed from leading specialty pharmacies, hospitals, and clinical trial sites – across four continents. Customers include healthcare firms, such as: five top-15 pharmaceutical companies (confidential), four top-10 national pharmacies (confidential), Mount Sinai, The Dana Farber Cancer Institute, New York Presbyterian, Massachusetts General Hospital, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, Penn Med, and many more.

Here's how our solution works: AdhereTech smart pill bottles automatically measure if patients have taken their medication, and this information is automatically sent from the bottles to our servers, where it is analyzed in real-time. If a dose is missed, AdhereTech reminds the patient and/or caregiver via a series of customizable features, such as automated phone calls or text messages - as well as on-bottle lights and chimes. If the system determines that the patients are experiencing side effects or other high-risk behaviors, an alert is sent to a live healthcare provider who can call the patient and provide immediate assistance. On average, these actions increase adherence by over 20% and time-on-therapy by over 30%.

As AdhereTech continues to collect these newly gathered adherence data, we develop novel insights into the drivers of non-adherence – and the solutions that work for specific types of patients. These inputs are used to create innovative interventions and personalization algorithms. In fact, we consider ourselves a hardware-enabled data and software company.

In my TEDMED Talk, I elaborate on how we have accomplished these feats. Next time you use any smart connected device, please think about its required set-up, ease-of-use, and battery life. Then consider how much better the product would be if even one of these factors were improved.  The IoT will soon become as ubiquitous as the Internet itself, and the IoMT has the potential to transform the way in which healthcare is delivered. Patients will be the group that ultimately decides which devices will be adopted, so we must always remember to design these tools for patients above all else. 

Contact Josh at:
[email protected]