Next in Tech: 4 Technologies to Watch in 2014 - The Cloud and Improved Connectivity

Posted in Medical Computing by Chris Wiltz on January 14, 2014

The Cloud and Improved Connectivity 

Imagine a patient whose health data was ubiquitously available at the touch of button. Imagine the convenience it would create not only for that patient, but also for clinicians and other healthcare providers. 
At the heart of every device development is the search for meaningful data, and more and more companies are beginning to understand the potential of the healthcare cloud for improving patient outcomes and the overall effectiveness of healthcare.
IBM has already begun to apply its Watson supercomputer (which famously defeated a human competitor on the television trivia show Jeopardy) to healthcare applications. The artificial intelligence system can learn from user feedback and draw from the large array of data available on the cloud to help clinicians make better decisions and hypotheses based on patient data, prior outcomes, and user expectations. Watson will soon be implemented into the curriculum at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine of Case Western Reserve University to assist medical students and doctors with diagnosis. 
IBM is combining its Watson supercomputer with  cloud computing to assist in diagnosis.
This past November, IBM released the IBM Watson Developers Cloud to allow developers to create applications for Watson, and they are already working on apps for the medical device and healthcare space. Supply chain management solution provider MD Buyline's Hippocrates app will assist hospitals with purchasing decisions, and the CafeWell app being developed by social health management company Welltok will track users' activity and suggest diets, exercises, and health programs. 
Not content with being the world's go-to search engine or putting automated cars on the road, Google announced back in September that it is undertaking a new project, called Calico, that will  “focus on health and wellbeing, in particular the challenge of aging and associated diseases," according to CEO Larry Page. The company has so far been mum on any products being developed through Calico, but, given the company's track record, it's not difficult to speculate that they will likely involve the information cloud. Google previously shuttered its Google Health service for storing patient health data because of a lack of user interest, but the 2013 rollout of Google Glass has many developers speculating on ways to use the company's technology for healthcare purposes. 
With so many connected devices entering the market and the mHealth trend putting more and more health and fitness trackers on the consumer market, there are now more ways than ever to collect patient data. The challenge in 2014 won't be for companies to figure out new ways to collect data; it will be how to store that data and make it available to patients and consumers. 
This past October, Carestream, a supplier of imaging technologies for healthcare, commissioned a survey that found the majority of patients would like to have access to their imaging data via online portals. Carestream also found that age was not a concern, with well over half of respondents over the age of 71 saying they were very likely to use an online image portal. That same month, consulting firm Accenture released its annual Consumer Survey on Patient Engagement and found that between 69% and 82% of patients surveyed globally would like electronic access to their medical data in some form. Electronic access to medical records was considered somewhat to very important by more than four out of five respondents. 
The message is clear: Patients want access to their health data. The question is whether companies will be able to come up with a viable solution that will satisfy all stakeholders: patients, hospitals, payors, and device makers. 
Telecom companies including Qualcomm, AT&T, Verizon, and Vodaphone have all thrown their name into the ring to develop their own versions of a unified system that will link patients, doctors, and devices across the cloud. The problem is that, in reality, only one company can win this battle. Without a standard, there will never be a true Internet of Things that connects universally across providers and devices. Patients and doctors are unlikely to adopt multiple devices, each with their own means of connecting to the cloud and each other.
Last month, Qualcomm announced it will make its AllJoyn platform for device interoperability open source as part of a partnership with the Linux Foundation. Along with other big-name technology companies, including HTC, Panasonic, Sharp, and LG Electronics, among others, Qualcomm and the Linux Foundation have formed the AllSeen Alliance. The goal is to standardized protocols for the Internet of Things and allow electronics and device manufacturers across multiple industries to develop technologies to allow for interoperability regardless of manufacturer. 
"Open source software and collaborative development have been proven to accelerate technology innovation in markets where major transformation is underway," Jim Zemlin, executive director at the Linux Foundation, said in a press statement. "Nowhere is this more evident today than in the consumer, industrial, and embedded industries, where connected devices, systems, and services are generating a new level of intelligence in the way we and our systems interact.” 



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