By Mika Skarp
Humans live longer now than ever due to how our understanding of diseases, their prevention measures, and cures improves continuously. As an example, the size of the population older than 90 years has increased by 30% in the five past years only (2010-2015). This phenomenon leads to various consequences, one being that the way we organize healthcare has to be revised. Elderly people need more assistance by healthcare professionals, but the manner in which services are organized nowadays is far too costly. Right now, 4 billion Euros are being invested to build new hospitals in Finland. To put this into perspective, consider that the total spending of the Finnish government amounts to about 50 billion Euros per year. Besides, we know already that these buildings are not going to be sufficient to solve the problems in healthcare. We therefore face two choices: either we select patients individually to receive care or we organize healthcare around homes.
I believe we all agree that working out an innovative approach is a better option than prioritizing patients. In healthcare, the most cost-efficient way to deliver service is preventing the need for hospitalization. There are many ways to achieve this, whether through education about eating habits, weight control, medicine intake, or measurement of body parameters. All this can be done at home easily. There is no fundamental reason for the average person to go to hospital for control visits. This also means that because measurements at home are significantly less expensive, we can do and pay for more of them.
So far, the problem has been that if measurement results are collected and stay at home, data is not being analyzed and in the end no prevention measures are being taken effectively. Therefore, all data we are collecting need to be delivered directly to a hospital cloud; this is the concept of Hospital as a Service. The cloud can be located at any place; this increases the competition between hospitals providing lower cost and better quality. There is a global market for developing algorithms to give early warnings about diseases and corrective actions. The only technical problem that has to be solved is how to transport data reliably from homes to the hospital cloud. Naturally, this kind of service requires more than 99,999% reliability. Extensive cycles of measurement can be invalid if one second of information is missing. Equipment that needs to be so simple that anyone can use it and have remote access for support presents another issue.
Consultations can be done via HD video streaming and assisted by a nurse if needed. This would replace having patients visit the hospital. Ericsson is even envisioning remote surgery, which is a great idea but in regular cases would not reduce costs significantly, as the patient needs to be in hospital anyway for surgery. In very special cases, a remote patient could avoid traveling and possible choose a surgery station he or she prefers and can afford. When remote monitoring is available, the patient does not have to stay in hospital, but can return home and still be monitored by professionals. If something goes wrong, help will be close and in touch, for example, in Helsinki Finland’s first aid personnel is at patients homes in less than seven minutes on average.
Clearly, affordability presents the main advantage of remote healthcare; it is the way to provide service to everyone without skyrocketing cost. Another advantage lies in the possibility to conduct a larger number of measurements and therefore analyze data more carefully, which will help in preventing health care issues and also recovering from diseases and injuries faster. All of which is happening within your home environment.
The remote healthcare concept was demoed at Slush 2015 at the GE booth by the three Finnish start-ups Eficode, Sensing and Cloudstreet over a TeliaSonera mobile LTE network.