The Internet of Things and Saving Lives

Liat Ben-Zur

Four years ago Liat Ben-Zur had a baby born three months premature. For the first three months of the child’s life, they lived in an incubation unit. There her son was continuously tracked, tested, measured, and imaged. The doctors knew every change, every improvement and every red flag. And every morning all the doctors and nurses in the NICU shared the latest updates and discussed care pathways. That was until the day her son was released from the NICU and sent home. Suddenly she felt very alone. She was scared and confused. The well-informed doctors, the continuous monitoring of her baby, the sharing of information and care plans suddenly vanished. So once home, she employed every digital tracker and app she could to monitor the baby’s breastfeeding, heart rate, sleep and more.

You see Ben-Zur was not just another concerned mother, she spent 18 years as an engineer at Qualcomm, the chipmaker responsible for so much of the expansion of cellphones. It was there that she co-founded the All-Seen Alliance, a consortium of open source Internet of Things companies trying to develop a common standard so all the IoT devices could talk to one another.

So when she came back to the doctors with piles of data she’d collected on her baby boy, “the doctors looked at me like I was an alien. We don’t know what to do with your data.” Ben-Zur threw up her hands, “The medical establishment doesn’t have to be like this.”

Ben-Zur sees her time as Qualcomm, a chipmaker that was at the birth of so many wireless devices, as formative. At Qualcomm she helped the world’s largest consumer electronic giants develop many of the marquee cell phones, smartphones and connected devices we are all familiar with today. When Philips came to her and proposed that she be their digital technology leader, she was very enthusiastic about transitioning from a behind the scenes technology enabler to helping to drive the dawn of Digital Health.

She is particularly enthusiastic about digital health consumer products like a connected Philips Sonicare toothbrush which can gamify oral healthcare for kids. “There’s clear evidence that if you can change a child’s toothbrushing habits before age 10, you can give them greater oral healthcare habits for life. And there’s a strong correlation between oral healthcare and general healthcare. People can live longer, healthier lives. That’s very cool.”

Not to be outdone by these startups raising millions overnight nor the host of apps and wearable trackers such as Fitbit and the dozens of others, Philips has been growing its own products offerings in the world of healthcare consumerization and is building out its digital health accelerator to add even more startups with trackers and apps to its HealthSuite, a cloud-enabled connected health ecosystem of devices, apps and digital tools that will work seamlessly together to empower personalized health and continuous care.

Philips already works with startups and established leading global companies to incorporate them into the HealthSuite, and also collaborates with hospitals globally. It announced a series of new ecosystem of products, partners and apps to add to Healthsuite at last month’s Consumer Electronic Show (CES).

Philips has been uniquely qualified to take on the new startups and other companies that want to advance their connected health ambitions and sees itself as the leader of the digital health revolution. Unlike new apps, trackers and startups, it has a historical role of working in the highly-regulated hospital environment globally and can introduce new validated digital health offerings much more quickly than startups. “The point of the secure cloud HealthSuite ecosystem is,” Ben-Zur says, “that it’s more about an Internet of Things than an Internet of Thing”.

Other connected products include a connected blood pressure cuff, a wrist-worn health tracker and a CPAP device. She even touts use cases such as Banner Health in the U.S. which found that 20 percent of its patients represented 80 percent of its cost through hospital readmissions. Working with Philips, patients were educated on how to use certain digital health trackers when they went home. Banner saw a 45% reduction in cost due to patients being empowered with their own digital information.

One product that Ben-Zur is particularly attached to is uGrow, a platform for baby development with a suite of connected devices to visually and audibly monitor the vital first 1,000 days of a baby’s life.

It also extends from its Philips Hue lighting system, which allows parents to adjust light for the perfect setting to enable a baby’s sleep or create the optimal, calming environment to support breastfeeding, to an Amazon Echo-connected device.

Philips is active in working with startups. Already Philips attends hackathons where they work with developer and third parties that build apps on the HealthSuite Development Platform. Lucien Engelen, a digital health thought leader works as a clinical partner of Philips and believes “that the HealthSuite ecosystem and platform is a great infrastructure and opportunity for startups to accelerate the development of their solutions as part of a secure open connected health infrastructure.”

To make app development as simple as possible, Philips is creating a Software Developer Kit (SDK) for the HealthSuite and in the future will be creating a specific set of routines, protocols, and tools for building software applications, also known as application programming interfaces (APIs).

Philips already has a Digital Accelerator as part of its HealthSuite Labs Initiative. Here they co-develop connected health solutions with a broad scope of stakeholders, ranging from health systems, governments, commercial organizations, patients, clinicians. The accelerator is a group of Philips experts that support rapid prototyping of solutions. During a HealthSuite Labs, they help create digital Proof of Concepts of the solutions that are conceptualized by the stakeholders taking part in a HealthSuite Labs.

Like so many of Philips digital health products, Ben-Zur believes that the consumer will be the hero of IoT’s introduction into healthcare.

“It won’t be about the technology. It will be about the patient acting as a consumer to take responsibility for their own healthcare to lower costs and create better clinical outcomes. We have to go from reactive to proactive. Take healthcare into our own hands. It’s not just about the data from trackers and apps. It’s about connecting it with doctors and healthcare systems to get meaningful info and better patient care.”