IoT could be the right medicine, says Accenture’s health chief (video)

31 Jul 2015

Pictured: The global head of Accenture’s healthcare business Dr Kaveh Safavi

Medical device manufacturers and giant consumer brands like Apple are on a collision course thanks to the internet of things (IoT) revolution, the global head of Accenture’s healthcare business Dr Kaveh Safavi has said.

Safavi said that it is likely that the pace of innovation by digital and pharma players will outpace most nations’ ability to provide healthcare that citizens will expect.

New devices as part of the internet of things (IoT) revolution and improvements in communications will hopefully relieve pressure on most nations’ crumbling healthcare infrastructure, resulting in greater levels of home care and access to medical specialists.

Safavi also revealed that every nation’s perception that healthcare systems in other countries are better than their own is relative – all nations are struggling with bureaucracy, budgets and outdated systems.

Safavi is responsible for developing and driving a growth strategy that differentiates Accenture’s offerings for providers, health insurers and public and private health systems across the globe.

He joined Accenture from Cisco in 2011 where he led the global healthcare practice.

Wearables phenomenon

In terms of how IoT will impact healthcare, Safavi said: “From a social perspective health is a giant category. The companies that produce devices around things like monitoring your body, your fitness, your activity, are really catering to society’s broadest notions of health.

“Much of healthcare is treating people who just want to stay well and have no interest in going to hospital. Their hope is to stay disease free on their own terms for as long as possible.

“What you are seeing around emergence of these devices is really an interesting phenomenon.

“The technology that allows us to sense the human body is being used in two ways. Part of it is for general fitness and awareness and part of it is really deeply connected to biological care.

“For example, there is a very specific electronic device that is put on a pill and when you ingest it the digestion sets off a small wave that allows you to know the pill has been ingested. That is used to monitor patients with serious conditions to figure out if they are taking their medicine.

“Then you have the Apple Watch on the other side which a healthy person might wear to monitor sleep or activity and have no input to a doctor.”

Gearing up for a colossal clash in digital health?

Dr Safavi said that consumer brands like Apple with its Watch and HealthKit are on a potential collision course with traditional medical device brands.

However, consumer brands may shy away from ultimately being perceived as medical devices because of the regulation involved, while traditional medical device manufacturers need to decide if they want to make their products more consumer-friendly.

“There are really interesting innovations on the consumer side in terms of wearability.

“But those companies have really not wanted to enter into healthcare because in order to do that they have to become regulated devices. Once they have an intended use to diagnose or treat illnesses there is a significant commitment they would have to make, which is not the business they are in.

“On the other hand you have traditional medical device manufacturers and they have figured out how to meet those expectations and they have struggled to get the elegance and the wearability that you see on the device side.

“This is a phenomenon we have written about we call the Colossal Clash, which is basically the device companies want their devices to be more consumer-friendly and the wearable companies want to figure out how to access the healthcare system but are afraid of regulation.

“It will be hard to say which way it will go, you can try and watch the patent filings to figure out where it is going, but I think you are probably going to see a group of companies that stay primarily focused on consumer health staying away from diagnosis and treatment and the device companies who are focused on where healthcare and illness occur,” Dr Safavi said.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years