Podcast 8: IoT is boosting healthcare professionals’ efficiency - The EE

Podcast 8: IoT is boosting healthcare professionals’ efficiency

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There’s no time like a pandemic to talk about Connected and Remote Healthcare. And who better to ask about it than two senior execs from a mobile network operator successfully delivering these services now to millions in its home market. Luc Vilandre and Mike Cihra from Canada’s TELUS talk exclusively to Jeremy Cowan, host of Tech Trends Podcast and Robin Duke-Woolley, founder of Beecham Research about choices in hospitals between WiFi 6 and 5G, smart healthcare services, and about the insights that IoT brings to help decision-making. That’s before we dive into some weird and wonderful stories in the wider tech world.  

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Podcast transcript:

Jeremy Cowan  0:04  

Hi, and welcome to the latest Tech Trends Podcast brought to you by The Evolving Enterprise, VanillaPlus.com and IoT Now. I’m Jeremy Cowan, and I want to thank you for joining us for today’s sometimes serious, sometimes light-hearted look at digital transformation for enterprises. Our first two guests are both from the Canada-based network operator, TELUS. First, a warm welcome to Luc Vilandre, president of TELUS Health. 

Luc Vilandre  0:39  

Well, thanks for having me this morning.

Jeremy Cowan  0:42  

It’s great to have you and also welcome to Mike Cihra. TELUS’s vice president for Internet of Things and Insights. Good to have you here, Mike. 

Mike Cihra  0:52  

Well, Hi, Jeremy. And thanks for having me on today. 

Jeremy Cowan  0:54  

Thank you, and we’re proud to say that TELUS us are also the sponsors of today’s Tech Trends podcast. So gentlemen, not only welcome, but thanks for being our sponsors today. And our final guest is well known to anyone involved in the Internet of Things. He is Robin Duke-Woolley, who founded Beecham Research, one of the best-known analysis and consulting firms in IoT. From offices in London and Boston they help businesses worldwide to optimise their use of the Internet of Things. So, we’re glad to have you here too, Robin. 

Robin Duke-Woolley  1:29  

Great to talk to you, Jeremy and nice to talk to TELUS as well.

Jeremy Cowan  1:34  

Thanks, Robin. Okay, first we’re going to share some key news stories we’ve all seen in the world’s technology news lately. Then Robin and I will both be quizzing our TELUS guests on the growth of connected healthcare in Canada and internationally. And finally, in What The Tech we’ll look at some of the weirder stuff, the stories that have made us either smile or just scratch our heads.

Okay, first the headlines. Robin, let me start with you. What have you found in the news lately? 

Robin Duke-Woolley  2:10  

Well, so everybody’s talking about COVID, of course, and it’s all very negative. But maybe this is a sort of slightly positive take on it. I don’t know, it depends how you look at it. Robots are taking over during COVID-19 and there’s no going back. That comes from ZDnet. Basically, it’s a surge in investments in robots over the past few months, certainly during this year.

And one of the quotes, ‘We’re seeing huge challenges for supply chain leaders across the logistics and manufacturing industries, from growing labour shortages and consumer expectations to a greater need for flexibility.’ So they go on to say that their AI-based (artificial intelligence-based) automation solutions allow our customers to adapt to a rapidly changing landscape and boost their productivity and efficiency threefold. And then with the fallout of COVID-19 already here, enterprises will be looking to future-proof their operations, and we’re going to be there with them as they make the transition. But the key point here is the workers are furloughed in all sorts of industries, companies are closing shops or tightening belts. And the deferential tone towards the worker whom automation was touted as helping, sort of you know, more automation means better support for workers, has been replaced with a sort of other pitch. 

Automation can stand in where human workers have to stay at home. And no one’s actually saying that, but investors might as well be with their wallets, because they’re all investing in robotics. So, one wonders what the future is for workers? It’s perhaps workers are an uncertain bet in a world where every human might have to stay home for a few months to avoid transmitting an infectious disease. Like it or not, robots are primed to take up the slack. Maybe we’re gonna see a big, big surge in robotic use over the next few years. 

Jeremy Cowan  4:08  

I feel sure you’re right. And I think the gloves are somewhat coming off, because the initial pitch was one of helping workers. And now it clearly seems that investors are expecting it to be much more a case of helping productivity. 

Robin Duke-Woolley  4:23  

Exactly. Yeah.

Jeremy Cowan  4:24  

Luc, what was your thought on hearing about this? 

Luc Vilandre  4:27  

Well, Jeremy, as Robin mentioned, of course, it’s hard to not look at the COVID-19 impact on health in general. But I think, you know, one of my observations is that prevalence of consumer patient healthcare apps just rising into the hands of everybody I speak to actually has some kind of healthcare app on their mobile device. Things that we’ve seen right, virtual care, the access to primary care. We now are in Canada, within about a year, having millions of Canadians that will be able to speak almost instantly to a qualified healthcare professional, right, something that didn’t happen before. 

You look into the fitness world, since the gyms and all facilities are closed. You know, the fitness apps have grown by 50% in the first half of the year of 2020. And that trend is maintained and you look at My Fitness Pal – one of the most popular applications, approaching the 200 million mark in the number of users – and applications also like Calm, again, reflecting maybe some of the anxiety that the pandemic has created with over 40 million downloads to help with meditation and a different way to manage your origin of life. So I think this is really a shift from an institutionally-driven model in health to a patient-centric one. And I would say that we’re going to see more and more democratisation of access to service and data in the hands of the patients. 

Jeremy Cowan  6:13  

I think this kind of segues into the news story that you wanted to pick out, doesn’t it? I mean, there was a story on the BBC that you mentioned, about the prevalence of health care apps. I mean, clearly, as you’ve indicated already, this is a rapidly growing area. What do you think will be the next steps? 

Luc Vilandre  6:36  

Well, I think, you know, the next step that we will see that there is definitely I would say a prevalence in all fields in health. But you will see also very specific value that will be built into fields like chronic disease management, so more specialised areas where, again, the connection with the patient will become something that will be a day-to-day thing. And I would say, scale, right; as we scale you will see the service evolve. And also with the evolution of technology, things like AI (artificial intelligence) will bring tremendous value again in the hand of the patients. 

Jeremy Cowan  7:20  

So, it’s not just a question of people downloading these apps, it seems that the uptake of them is greater than ever as well. Is that right? 

Luc Vilandre  7:30  

I think it is right. The pandemic has been a bit of an accelerator because of, you know, forcing everybody to do things differently. But now that we’ve been tasting that type of approach, I think it’s really there to stay and to grow, and to establish a new way of delivering care all over. 

Jeremy Cowan  7:51  

One set of figures I saw showed that the number of daily active users (I think the jargon is the DAUs) kind of mirrored the severity of a region’s lockdown, i.e. if you can’t go out at all, you’re probably more likely to download the app and also to use it. Hence, there were higher downloads in India than in the US. Do you think that’s a fair link to make? Has it been affected in that way by lockdown?

Luc Vilandre  8:20  

I think it is a very definite factor. You know, as we say, Necessity is the Mother of all Invention. So, when you are in a situation that is forced on you, I think you’re looking at alternative and different solutions. And yes, it is definitely an accelerator. But I think, you know, this would have happened anyway. It’s not only about the pandemic, and having, you know, bigger lockdowns. I think this is an accelerator, but it is just a natural evolution on how, you know, care should be given to different people, you know, across the globe. And I think we’re seeing here in help, the transformation that we’ve seen in other industries before, right, where technology and reach has brought the tremendous value again. And at the end also, you know, I would say cost efficiency, because a lot of time doing this through technology channels is extracting costs from this system also. 

Jeremy Cowan  9:27  

That’s really interesting. Thanks for that, Luc. Mike, I know you’ve got something for us, a story that you spotted. What was that?

Mike Cihra  9:37  

I’m gonna stay on the virtual care path here, Jeremy. I saw a story that caught my eye, BBC News, I think it was. And the story was about a company called Virti. And I think what caught my attention was that they’ve got an interesting problem that I hadn’t really thought about as being as significant as it as it is, and that was the business of helping Doctors. And specifically I guess, you know, doctors earlier in their career who are trying to deal with the stress and the challenges of first-time patient encounters with, you know, someone who is unwell. And the fact that this application that Virti’s come up with it’s really a nice mix of virtual reality, augmented reality and machine learning all within a mobile context to really help early stage doctors, you know, help their patients avoid medical errors. And I did a little sort of, I just kept sort of going with this as you sometimes do on the internet. And I realized, or I hadn’t realized, in fact that medical errors is in fact, the third leading cause of death in terms of Western healthcare systems. So, it was a big surprise to me. I guess simply, you know, I like the fact that it’s a very, very real pragmatic example of how augmented reality, virtual reality is really coming together in a truly valued context on the mobile to deal with an important problem; to me just a good example of where and how technology really can start to make an important difference in the market. 

Robin Duke-Woolley  11:06  

Yeah, that’s interesting. 

Jeremy Cowan  11:07  

I saw the report that you alluded to, and I thought the key words in that report, were about the training experience, the words ‘realistic’ and ‘repeatable’. I mean that is so valuable for teaching, because that has to be incredibly difficult to achieve in medical training for young doctors.

Mike Cihra  11:28  

I agree. And I think that there are two parts, one is the training piece, for sure. Secondly, is the power of that remote experience, and how this could be of course extended into things that could involve providing training services to people in more remote locations, that don’t have access to good training facilities, good doctors. So certainly, there’s a remote opportunity here from a telehealth, telemedicine perspective. And also, I just think in the context of going back to that medical error point, you know, the amount of money that’s spent and that hospitals are having to contend with as it relates to litigation lawsuits around the importance of you know, the unfortunate situation of often having to contend with error, all the dollars that are going into training. I just think this is a really interesting approach. 

Jeremy Cowan  12:22  

Yeah, I’m absolutely sure you’re right. Thanks, Mike for sharing that. Gentlemen, we are at that moment where we get to actually quiz you about what you guys have been doing. And this is really interesting for Robin and I, because connected and remote healthcare has been talked about for a long time. It’s been developed over a long period of years. But it hasn’t always achieved the success or the speed that you guys have been able to achieve. So I’m really glad we can hear now from your real world experiences. 

Mike, I wonder if I could start with you? What is the need for wireless versus wired connections in these environments? And secondly, is WiFi generally the answer to wireless connectivity issues in the hospital?

Mike Cihra  13:18  

So, I think if we’re talking, Jeremy in the context of, you know, a building, for example, if we’re talking about wired versus wireless in that context, I think wired is certainly great as a stable source of infrastructure and enabler for WiFi. It’s important in that context, but in terms of sort of connecting things within a factory setting, or in a hospital setting, where, I think we believe that in time, and I think everyone here probably agrees that, in time, anything and everything that has anything to say or transmit will soon be connected over the internet. I think there’s an interesting element here, the comparison for me, I think is probably more interesting as it relates to wide area network technology. So things like cellular 5G versus say, WiFi. And if you look for specifically, and I think many would be looking right now at the comparison, for example, should I be deploying via WiFi 6 or 5G? Because they’re sort of equivalent contemporaries from two different strains and both have really made positive strides over their predecessors. You know, in terms of 4G to 5G, and prior I mentioned WiFi, so from WiFi 5 to WiFi 6. Both made great strides in terms of things like speed, coverage, latency, battery life, but I will take this chance to sort of put my props up for 5G. I think there’s a couple key advantages that 5G does offer over WiFi 6, one would be around density of deployment. So, what does that mean? That’s essentially the ability to have more sensors and more devices within a tight space that can be supported and at minimal latency. So, simply put, you know, 5G can do more around supporting devices in a sort of a tight space, and with less interference, in fact, than WiFi 6 can. And also, the just the last point I would make is in terms of 5G, the latency piece is really important as well. You now have an opportunity to have essentially a near real-time experience, and a very predictable experience in terms of performance, getting down into literally the sub-millisecond speed range, which is going to truly open up real-time opportunities that relate to things like video processing, AR, VR, remote surgery. So the applications themselves, you know, they’re not completely here yet, certainly, but I think this is going to provide the foundation through which those applications really can start to thrive. 

Robin Duke-Woolley  16:04  

That’s really interesting. So, Luc, if I could pick up on that. Can you give us some details about the smart healthcare service offering from TELUS? 

Luc Vilandre  16:13  

Yeah, sure. I think to start with, though, I would like to give a little bit of context on, you know, what we’ve done over the past decade, that basically building a very solid position in the health market, right building reach, and relationship throughout the whole ecosystem. We’ve been working really hard at deploying a set of assets and calibration points in what you know was, and is still somewhat, a very siloed ecosystem. But as digital transformation moves to the forefront, it is definitely crucial for TELUS to have a strong IoT offering. So, our goal is to offer a true IoT experience to customers and patients, one that can focus on pulling disparate systems together, while filtering out the noise from the massive data sets prevailing in health systems in general. One that will enhance healthcare professionals capacity and capability and efficiency, not replacing them, but just making them more effective. One that will be connecting the right device at the right time, making it easy, for instance, for doctors or nurses to use their intuition and to be able to proceed with decisions quickly, turning information into better health outcomes.

Robin Duke-Woolley  17:41  

That’s fantastic. And Mike, related to that, can you tell us a bit about the IoT smart healthcare solution you launched recently?

Mike Cihra  17:50  

Sure, we just launched quite recently, the TELUS smart healthcare portfolio. And that is actually a partnership that we’ve engaged in with another Canadian company, in fact, a company called ThoughtWire. And we brought forward now a solution that we’re really quite excited about. Firstly, I should talk about sort of the digital twin capability. So, this is essentially going into a healthcare environment and starting to essentially light up and to emulate or allow for replication of anything and everything within a healthcare facility to be wired, connected, and transmitting information where it’s relevant to be transmitting information. So, if you think about it in the context of, it could be medical devices of course, but it goes much further than that. It could be literally everything within the environment. It could be the hospital beds, the wheelchairs, the soap dispensers, and even people. All of these things have roles to play around patient care, of course, location of where things are, but also things like compliance. I mentioned soap dispensers, as an example to make sure you know, in this day and age, of course, our nurses and doctors, are they are they washing their hands when they’re supposed to be? Are they doing the things that they’re supposed to be doing in their setting to making sure that they’re providing the right safety and context around taking care of their patients. So that level of visibility is really what this is about, or is the starting point for us in healthcare in terms of the IoT standpoint.

Robin Duke-Woolley  19:36  

Sounds a bit like Big Brother, doesn’t it?

Mike Cihra  19:40  

Well, it’s not the first time I’ve heard Big Brother in the IoT business. And we truly like to believe that, you know, that level of visibility is there, not as a Orwellian threat to society but more as a opportunity for visibility and an opportunity to be better. To be more complete at, you know, whether it’s a business helping its employees being better for its customers, that visibility is really what this is all about. 

Robin Duke-Woolley  20:10  

That’s great. 

Jeremy Cowan  20:11  

Mike, what are the IoT smart healthcare insights provided by ThoughtWire? I’m thinking of things that help better decision-making. 

Mike Cihra  20:21  

Well, I think a lot of it starts with the business of visibility. So, we were just talking about we’re connecting everything. Is that a threat? Or is that an opportunity? I think certainly, if what’s being connected is relevant and important to the needs in a hospital setting and a long-term care setting as it relates to the doctors, the patients, the supporting staff, then to me those are all helpful points of visibility. So, what we’re simply trying to do is bring sort of a situational awareness to those that need the information. And it starts with having the visibility around that information. But beyond visibility, you want to start interconnecting those connected things with other assets and activities that the businesses and the hospitals, for example, rely upon. So, what you really need to start doing is connecting these things with other information, IT systems that are relevant, important to the business, to the hospital. Whether it’s their IT infrastructure, their clinical systems, they’re building systems as it relates to temperature monitoring, or building access, when you start to interconnect all of these things together – which is exactly what ThoughtWire is doing – this is when you start to bring forward a really pervasive and complete experience to be better at managing the activities within your environment. 

Robin Duke-Woolley  21:44  

So Luc, a couple of things for you. Can we discuss your e-claims software for insurance purposes, and medicine management for pharmaceutical? And then secondly, can you also tell us about connecting all key players across healthcare to enable better patient care? 

Luc Vilandre  22:02  

Yeah, sure. Those are solutions that are quite interesting and exciting, I think, for the industry. So, first one, e-claims connecting the patient and extended healthcare providers like VisionCare, and payers altogether. And in this case, payers, of course, in Canada, on the private side are insurance companies. So, allowing the patient to receive their treatment, and to process the claims seamlessly, without having to submit on their own. So basically, from the point of service to the payer, without the intervention of the patient, so making it very, very easy in there. And then, you know, on top of that, being able to use the data, to better understand the business. 

On the medicine management front, we have many solutions there that we provide for medication management. I’d like to talk about one we just launched actually on the electronic prioritisation platform, basically allowing patients in need of high cost, specialty drugs, to drastically shorten the time between diagnostic and the time of prescription, and the dispensing and use of the drug, right to treat the disease of the patient. We’re talking here about, you know, going from months of waiting to now literally hours or sometime days, in the world where some treatments, you know, are costing a million dollars a year for a single patient. So, there’s a lot more scrutiny of course, around from the payers on those type of drugs. 

On the THX front, you alluded to how we can connect all players from the health ecosystem, to enable access to applications exchange data seamlessly in a fully structured and secure environments. So something that we’ve been working on for years now and, you know, we have our TELUS health exchange, a platform in production where any stakeholder can connect to APIs, SAP, and that makes it very easy identification to access a different type of application and value around that. 

Jeremy Cowan  24:32  

Thanks. And Mike, I’m guessing that listeners can find out more about TELUS’s work in this area at TELUS.com. Is that the best place to look? 

Mike Cihra  24:43  

Yes, that’s correct. 

Jeremy Cowan  24:45  

Great. Well, thank you, gentlemen, very much for giving us the lowdown on what you’ve been doing. I find that absolutely fascinating, and I feel sure that we’ll be coming back to it. We’ve reached the final section of the pod, called What The Tech. And here we share something tech-based that amused or just amazed us. Luc, can you share what struck you recently? 

Luc Vilandre  25:10  

Well, what struck me recently is the valuations of what we call health tech companies, right? There’s been mega deals that have taken place this year. One that I think was in the press quite a lot was the Teladoc deal with Livongo, right, an $18 billion-plus deal made by the company. And when you look, I was just Googling this morning, the Teladoc market cap value at $28 billion, you know, out of a $1 billion revenue. (Laughter.) 

I’ve seen also the highest venture funding of all time in health tech companies, right. $100 billion in the US for a little bit over 2700 companies. So, I think in there what that says is that it translates the excitement and the high expectation on how you know what digitisation of healthcare is going to transform that industry, and just make the patient experience better. So, it’s a very exciting time for health tech companies and for patients. And I think to get to get more value. 

Jeremy Cowan  26:28  

Those figures are simply breathtaking. I’m not going to put you on the spot Luc and ask you how quickly you think they’ll achieve a return on investment for their 18 and a half billion. That might be unfair. (Laughter.) But it is going to be interesting to watch. Mike, what’s tickled you?

Mike Cihra  26:45  

So, I was watching an interview with Eric Yuan, who is the founder and CEO of Zoom. I think probably some of us have heard of Zoom over the last nine months. (Laughter.) I was surprised, you know, at the conviction that Eric had around moving beyond sight and sound to other sensory opportunities in terms of a video conference experience. I mean, the level of conviction he has that we’re going to soon be in a place where if you’ve seen for example, many of the applications of course, today have backdrop visuals. You know, whether you’re on a beach or you’re in your backyard while you’re having a video conference, you know, there are images of being in a coffee shop. And so Eric was talking about literally being in a place where you would be not only seeing the coffee shop, but you would be smelling the coffee percolating in the back as you’re having your video conference. (Laughter.) Or for example, having the ability to shake someone’s hand as you’re first meeting them in a conference. I really found this interesting. And so I again, I had to do some checking. And sure enough, these are real developments. There’s something called epidural VR (virtual reality), this is a real project being run out in Northwestern University in Chicago, where they’re using actuators on a pad similar to sort of like a mouse pad. And you can hold on to this pad, and during a conference, a video conference over the Internet, and have the ability to for example, feel the pat on your hand from a teammate or be able to shake someone’s hand when you’re first meeting them. So, of course, this is all very early days; it’s in a university setting right now. But just as a matter of course, as to where this is going to go, I think it’s exciting. You know, bringing it back to a connected health context, it would seem to me possible that in time, these actuators and mediums for touch could eventually end up in prosthetics or in tools that could be used, for example, in telemedicine. So, you know, I think at the end of the day, I’m buying into this with some conviction as well that sight and sound right now are simply where we are, but I think that given time, you know, sort of a full sensory experience is going to be available to all of us over the internet. We just need some time to get there. 

Jeremy Cowan  29:05  

I’m sure it’s coming. I know my daughter will want to know if the smells include a skinny cappuccino with chocolate syrup sprinkles. (Laughter.) If not, I think she’ll probably stick with Instagram. But Robin, I’d love to know what’s caught your eye. 

Robin Duke-Woolley  29:19  

Yeah, well, so I saw this piece about exosuits. And I thought exosuits; well, that’s sort of high tech stuff, isn’t it? Well, actually, no, it’s elastic bands. (Laughter.) So, it’s pretty low tech. But basically it’s a low tech elastic clothing that can work wonders for easing strain according to new research. And here with this type of garment that you can wear it sort of balances what the muscles do in an assistive way and reduces stress and strain. So, in one finding for example, the act of holding a 35 pound weight was made less tiring than holding a 24 pound weight. I mean, that’s a relative thing. But that’s quite interesting because it means that not everything that we’re doing now is really needs to be high tech orientated. We could perhaps use, you know, the humble elastic band to actually change the strains of modern living in new ways, and I thought that was quite an interesting idea. 

Jeremy Cowan  30:28  

I’d never realised that elastic underwear was going to improve my mood.

Robin Duke-Woolley  30:35  

Well, there you go. The future is elastic. (Laughter.)

Jeremy Cowan  30:37  

And with that image, imprinted on all our minds, I think we’d better move on. We always want to know what you our listeners think. And you can tell me right now on Twitter, and that’s @jcIoTnow. It’d be really good to hear from you. 

Gentlemen. Thank you. That’s it, I’m afraid. Time is up. Let me finish by saying a really big thank you for sharing your expertise with us. First to TELUS’s Luc Vilandre. 

Luc Vilandre  31:07  

Yeah, well, thanks a lot for the opportunity. Like I mentioned, we’re in exciting times in transforming healthcare. So it was a pleasure to be here this morning with you and your listeners. 

Jeremy Cowan  31:21  

Thank you, and I hope you’ll keep us informed. We’ll get you back soon. And to Mike Cihra, thank you, Mike. 

Mike Cihra  31:27  

Well, thank you, Jeremy. Thanks for the opportunity. Enjoyed it.

Jeremy Cowan  31:30  

And also for sponsoring the podcast. Thank you, gentlemen. Well, it’s been great to have you here. And my thanks, too, to the doyen of IoT analysts, Robin Duke-Woolley of Beecham Research. Thanks, Robin. 

Robin Duke-Woolley  31:43  

Well, that’s great. And I shall record that little piece and play it back to you at some other time. (Laughter.)

Jeremy Cowan  31:50  

We’ve enjoyed having you here. Finally, ladies and gentlemen, I can’t let you go without thanking you for joining us around the world. Don’t forget to subscribe to the pod wherever you found us today. And go on, be a star. Give us a 5-Star rating and say something you know will make us blush. 

And until the next time, keep safe. Keep checking IoT-Now.com, VanillaPlus.com and TheEE.ai for tech news and interviews. And join us again very soon for another Tech Trends Podcast looking at enterprise digital transformation. ’Bye for now.



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