Systems Engineering

Watson IoT and embracing the future of health care

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Few business sectors have more to gain—or lose—from technological developments than health care. That’s why so many health care organizations find themselves at the forefront of the intriguing possibilities that Watson IoT-enabled solutions can provide.

Kaiser Permanente’s Andrew Hendl detailed these possibilities on day one of the 2017 IBM Continuous Engineering Summit in New Orleans. Hendl, a management manager for the 11.8 million-member insurer and health care provider, outlined how his massive organization has migrated from an on-prem CLM (contract lifecycle management) framework to a managed service.

Hendl image CE summit

Kaiser Permanente’s Andrew Hendl discusses the future of health care technology.

Watson IoT is as much about people as technology

As with so many Watson-centric technology solutions, many of the inherent challenges and opportunities aren’t very technical at all. As Hendl noted, Kaiser’s mission of “making sure our folks are taking care of you and your family” hasn’t changed, but its methods have. He said that a few years ago his team was primarily focused on maintaining existing tools and building new ones, which included all the typical financial considerations.

But now new solutions are arising that sound like science fiction come to life. “We’ve seen the way Watson and the like are creating connected cars; now we’re looking at connected people,” Hendl said. “The health care sector is really figuring out how all this is going to work.”

Hendl predicted that we are within 10-15 years of having access to an ingestible or injectable device that lives inside the body. Whenever you enter a hospital, these devices’ RFID sensors would pull your biometric data off the chip; by the time you check in at the doctor’s office, any relevant metrics will have been logged and interpreted.

It sounds both incredibly convenient and utterly complex, and Hendl acknowledged the challenges associated with such a brave new world. “You aren’t going to be getting this device from your doctor; you’ll get it, and any upgrades for it, from Best Buy,” he said. “But it’s one thing to get your email hacked and another to get your blood pressure hacked.”

Continuous engineering is the key to future adjustments

It won’t just be consumers who have to adjust; the companies developing and using these technologies must also alter their business methods. Their delivery of new products and upgrades must improve. They must be able to pull and analyze data multiple times per day. And they must generally improve the entire organization’s performance as the market dictates. “The teams charged with doing all this aren’t getting any bigger, and these tools have to be easier to use and can’t go down, or they can only be down for short periods,” Hendl said

This will also create a Darwinian competitive environment as companies hire new employees from competitors and then aggressively and quickly integrate them with existing teams. “Any good organization can spin up new tools pretty quickly,” Hendl said. “Training people on them to make sure the tools are working for them and fit into their day is much more difficult.”

He said his Kaiser team now spends a large portion of its time on training and retraining around the new solutions: “These teams need to see what they’re doing right and be recognized for it, and they also need to see what their doing wrong so they can correct it. It used to take many months to get up and running with new tools; now we can do it in one long weekend,” Hendl said. “We’ve freed up funds to look for other ways to train, and it looks like the managed services solution is going to pay for itself.”

To see if your company is ready for what’s next in IoT and connected products, learn more here.

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