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The ‘Internet of Health Things’ To Be Worth $163 billion By 2020

The way patients find and engage with healthcare providers is undergoing vast change with artificial intelligence and smart search at the center.

In comparison to the struggles the retail space has been having with the blurred lines between digital and physical, the healthcare sector appears to be the throes of a wide embrace of technologies that will alter the way doctors, pharmacies, insurers, and patients connect with each other.

The alignment of the Internet of Things — or in the case of a specific business segment identified by Accenture as the “Internet of Health Things” — with artificial intelligence that powers “smart search” results provided by Amazon’s Alexa or IBM’s Watson is already altering the priorities of all facets of the health & wellness industry.

To put a dollar figure on what all this change amounts to, Accenture cites an eMarketer’s forecast saying the value of IoHT will reach $163 billion by 2020, with a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 38.1 percent between 2015 and 2020.

And within the the next five years the healthcare sector is projected to be “number one” in the top 10 industries for Internet of Things app development. As a separate Accenture report notes, the insurance industry is primed for AI.

Enhancing The Insurance Experience

A survey of insurance marketing executives released this week by Accenture found that 75 percent of respondents say that artificial intelligence represents a significant investment. The role for AI in an insurance context is meant to give agents and brokers the means to “enhance the customer experience” with automated personalized services, faster claims handling and individual risk-based underwriting processes, according to Accenture’s Technology Vision for Insurance 2017.

About 32 percent of insurers say their own company will be “completely transformed” by AI within the next three years, while 30 percent believe that AI will significantly change their company.

 “The adoption of artificial intelligence is gaining momentum within insurance, with executives pointing to AI’s potential to revolutionize the customer experience and empower agents, brokers and employees,” said John Cusano, senior managing director and global head of the Accenture Insurance practice.

“Our research shows that insurers are investing in AI technologies to, among other things, improve customer interactions based on written and spoken interactions, gestures, interactive touch displays and hybrid mixed-reality platforms that merge the virtual and the real world, with each customer exchange becoming increasingly personalized,” Cusano added.

Healthcare providers and payers are building up IoHT programs in three areas: remote patient monitoring (RPM), wellness and prevention, and “operations.”

And there’s already value being accrued, Accenture’s survey respondents claim. Most of the value from IoHT is largely aimed at three specific functions: administrative/ operational cost savings, improvements in consumer experience, and revenue gains from improved consumer attraction/retention.

The latter aspect could have enormous implications for the way medical providers and related services achieve discovery.

In a survey last year, Yext [Full disclosure: Yext is GeoMarketing’s parent company. More details here] found that nearly one-third of doctors and hospitals don’t have a clear online presence —that’s 3.6x greater than the unlisted percentage of other businesses.

Still, the ability of healthcare providers and services to tap into intelligent agents like Alexa or connect data from wearables continues to confront barriers. Among the chief items holding back faster adoption of IoT and AI include security concerns, technology immaturity, and a lack of budget.

Hospitals, in particular, are finding considerable difficulty in shifting to these resources, Accenture found.

AI In The Hospital

The mix of hope and hardship when it comes to AI in Accenture’s report was amplified by a Healthcare IT News and HIMSS Analytics survey that showed 35 percent of healthcare providers and physicians expect to use AI within two years, with over 50 percent saying they plan to employ those technologies within five.

At the moment, roughly 5 percent of providers are already using some form of AI in their operations and practices.

Remote Control

Remote Patient Monitoring is one of the most promising areas of healthcare and technology. But here too, the upfront costs have caused administrators to be cautious. On top of that, the security issue persists and many providers want to take a wait-and-see attitude about whether their patients will feel comfortable sharing their most personal and private information via online channels.

As a result of all that, healthcare providers’ current investments in remote patient management and IoHT lag behind wellness and prevention, Accenture said.

Still, operations programs today—but are set to take off  in the near term, the Accenture survey respondents indicate. About 43 percent of providers are investing in remote patient management today, while 56 percent expect to by the end of the year.

Here, too, insurers are leading the way, as remote patient management investments “lead the field” at 69 percent today but will reduce to 48 percent by the end of 2017.

“Despite challenges with security and privacy, inaction is not an option,” Accenture said. “There are players outside of traditional healthcare organizations looking at these same industry challenges and considering ways to capture the opportunity.

If providers and payers do not invest in demonstrating IoHT value now, they risk losing out to non-traditional players. Going forward, providers and payers must identify parts of the business where IoHT solutions may be applied to do things differently—and do different things to grow in the long-term.