How The Internet of Everything will Impact Healthcare Insurers

on January 17, 2014
Reading Time: 4 minutes

If you have been reading my columns over the last few years you know that I have had some serious health problems. In June of 2012 I had a triple bypass and have spent the last 18 months recovering and trying to stay healthy and fit. One of the things I started doing once I had the strength was to start walking. For the first month I could hardly get to the end of my street. But over time as I gained strength I started walking longer distances and even started to do some serious hiking. I credit my walking exercise with helping to build strength and endurance and it has clearly impacted my overall recovery.

I also credit my Nike Fuelband and its technology to help me monitor my progress and it became a very helpful motivational tool. I was told by my doctors that I needed to walk at least 10,000 steps each day as part of my recovery process. Although I had initially used a basic pedometer, I found that Nike’s Fuelband points system as well as its tracking of steps and calories burned gave me more data points and as a result this data become part of my motivational focus. I especially used it to try and beat my points scores or at least equal them on a daily basis. I also bought a watch that could monitor heart beats, which turned out to be important since I knew that even with walking I needed to increase my heart rate to get more benefit from this exercise.

At CES there were dozens of new health monitoring devices introduced and most of the existing ones, such as the Jawbone UP, Fibit health bands and others got updated. We researchers put these devices in the wearables category as well as the iHealth sector and I see them as the first wearable technology to gain mass market acceptance. It will be many years before smart watches, smart glasses and other wearables go mainstream but for now health related wearables will be the biggest segment of devices sold in the wearables category.

When I met Cisco’s CEO John Chambers at CES he told me that the IoE will have a big impact on healthcare. He was referring to big issues like larger networks and more data related infrastructure since that is Cisco’s sweet spot, but he also referred to the role of “end point” devices such as wearable health monitors and out patient testing devices connected to a Dr’s office or clinic too. The back end has to be able to support the potential of millions of these devices connected to the internet and medical facilities in real time in some cases.

However, I see the IoE’s impact on healthcare being much more personalized and interactive in the future. In the iHealth section of CES, United Healthcare actually had the largest booth in this section. They had 6 stations showing off things like Web sites with nutritional info and other sites for preventative healthcare as well as backing two or three wearable health monitoring devices. I have had discussions with some healthcare providers over the last six months that helps me understand why United Healthcare was at the show. All of the major healthcare insurers and providers know that if people stay healthy they stay out of Dr’s offices and the hospital and their costs are reduced. So they are making a major effort to push illness prevention and are very big on keeping people well.

This is where their backing of things like the Fitbit, Fuelband and other wearable health monitors come in. They know that if a person stays active the chances of getting ill is minimized. They suggest taking walking at least 10,000 steps daily, burning more calories, keeping pulse rate up during exercise, etc. They know that these wearable devices can help monitor and motivate and can use these data points to help people stay active. But one person suggested that they could use these to also help keep their costs down. The idea would be for a person to use these wearable devices daily to track activity and opt into sending that data to their insurers. This could be done a number of ways weekly, daily or monthly but it would allow the health insurers to know if they are keeping active, thus minimizing future health problems. To get people to opt in they could tie it to their actual insurance costs. Let’s say that a person is healthy and uses these devices to monitor that activity which goes a long way towards keeping them healthy. If the insurers can monitor that they could tie it to lowering their health insure premiums. Or even you have been ill and are recovering, being active

Although this idea is in its early stages and is frought with a lot of security, privacy and fraud issues, if they can solve these problems or at least minimize the threat, I personally would be glad to send my monitored activity data to them if they reduce my health costs. Health insurance premiums are going up and any way that I can reduce them is interesting to me and suspect it would be interesting to many people also. The people in the health industry I talked to about this are looking at the cost benefit analysis of these type of wearable devices impacting their bottom line but if they can show major health cost reductions by a program like this they will be aggressive with it. Either way, they are highly committed to helping people stay healthy and their current online programs and other digitally driven IOE solutions that help people stay healthy is now a real priority for them.