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Healthcare’s connectivity cure?

Technology has long been touted as the solution to many of modern medicine’s ills, but it may finally reach its potential over the next, connectivity-fueled decade.
Richard Bartlett

Associate partner in McKinsey’s London office, specializing in medtech and healthcare

Naomi Smit

Leading clients through digital transformation and advanced connectivity

For the past couple of decades, the emergence of electronic medical records, telemedicine, and big data have held the promise of revolutionizing healthcare for both patient and provider, making it more efficient, effective, and affordable. Yet so far, the payoff has been elusive, with technology arguably causing as many (if not more) headaches in the system as it cures.

Still, there is no doubt that advanced connectivity has the potential to deliver big savings to the healthcare industry by improving productivity and outcomes that in turn will free up money to invest elsewhere in the business. The McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) and the McKinsey Center for Advanced Connectivity (MCAC) estimate that those improvements will add $250 billion to $420 billion to global GDP by 2030, some 80 percent of which can be realized with existing advanced connectivity.

Three use cases in particular—remote patient monitoring, AI-enabled decision support, and integrated command centers—highlight the massive potential value of advanced connectivity in healthcare.

Remote patient monitoring

Newly sophisticated and affordable, wearable sensors can deliver information about heart rates, glucose levels, and oxygen saturation to care providers anywhere in real time. This approach to patient care and oversight can reduce the length and number of hospital stays and lower readmission rates, as well as help patients keep chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension under control without constant in-person medical intervention. We estimate that such systems running on advanced mobile networks can deliver $70 billion to $120 billion in annual value globally, not to mention lower morbidity and increased patient satisfaction.

AI-enabled decision support

Advanced connectivity allows the use of artificial intelligence to learn from large data sets, fueling systems that can collect and update patient histories, evidence-based protocols, and information from patient monitoring. This will allow healthcare professionals to make better decisions and deliver treatment faster, even from far-flung locations. In Birmingham, England, for example, doctors have tested a system using virtual-reality headsets and joysticks to help paramedics take an ultrasound scan with a haptic glove and instantaneously transmit the data back to the doctors for faster diagnosis. These support systems—enabled by high-bandwidth, low-latency networks and advances in computing, storage, and sensors—could unlock $40 billion to $70 billion in efficiencies, including reductions in medical errors.

Integrated command centers

Capturing information delivered by radio-frequency identification (RFID) and sensor tags installed across a hospital, bar codes from patient bracelets, and other connected devices can radically transform patient care. A connectivity-enabled central dashboard using this data can better manage patient flows, freeing up beds and optimizing staff scheduling. Similarly, advanced connectivity can link multiple healthcare IT systems as well as sensors and tags in a continuum of care. Integrated command centers could generate efficiencies that add $40 billion to $70 billion annually.

These three use cases are just the most prominent examples of how advanced connectivity could dramatically benefit individuals’ healthcare, as well as health systems and even whole economies, within a decade. Connectivity-enabled remote patient monitoring and telemedicine will help people better manage long-term health conditions and gain access to preventative care. Advanced technologies will improve patient outcomes by delivering more accurate diagnoses or rapidly adjusted treatments. Health systems will be able to deploy staff, coordinate patient care, and tap limited resources more efficiently. Israel’s largest healthcare organization, for instance, is already using IoT-based “smart cabinets” to manage its inventory of medical devices and supplies. All of the resulting improvements in population health should ultimately increase productivity and economic growth, potentially adding $2.1 trillion annually to global GDP.

Such achievements, however, require more than advanced connectivity and smart devices. Governments must prioritize funding for healthcare innovations, and insurers must implement clear reimbursement paths for digital offerings. Healthcare systems need to hire for a wide range of new roles, including systems architects, data scientists, and user-experience designers. Common data standards and governing regulatory guidelines will have to be set, just as clear, proven procedures for protecting patient data are paramount. Within and across countries, frameworks to guide investment in technology-driven healthcare services and to test and confirm the validity of connectivity-enabled use cases are essential.

Finally, it is critical that all stakeholders—from providers and systems to payors, employers, and technology/connectivity providers—learn to collaborate, most importantly on solving the issue of interoperability across systems and solutions. Only by moving beyond their traditional silos and working together for the good of the entire system can all these varied players each reap the benefits of connectivity in healthcare while delivering the most crucial reward to patients themselves.

This post was adapted from the recent MGI/MCAC discussion paper, Connected world: An evolution in connectivity beyond the 5G revolution. It is part of an ongoing series.

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