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Technology Corner

Getting Ready for the Internet of Things ––>

We just encountered a newspaper ad from 1994 in which RadioShack advertised its latest technology deals. Not only was every single product no longer available, but the replacements for the product did not look anything close to the 1994 version. For example, a Sony Walkman offered FM radio in a unit the size of a sandwich. We now either stream a music channel like Pandora or get a satellite feed from Sirius XM, or we run a play list from our stored songs and albums. Oh yes, and your local RadioShack is likely no longer there, either.

Bill recently gave a presentation to the Arkansas Pharmacists Association’s annual meeting. During our presentations, we always give people our e-mail addresses and cell phone numbers to use if they want to ask us a tech question. Bill just spent the morning telling a pharmacist how to register a domain name so that a pharmacy could make the big step to having a website out there on the Internet. He also told the pharmacist about hosting services and website development options. This got us to thinking about all of the changes we have seen since the mid-1990s and about whether we will continue to watch things happen, make things happen, or wonder what happened.

We just encountered a website that still requires that you type in “www” before the name of the site. It got us to reminiscing. Remember how amazed we were way back when 1 billion computers worldwide had connected to this new thing we called the Internet? Oh my goodness, it wasn’t too many years after that, that we piled on 2 billion connections that came from all of our mobile technology devices. When was the last time you had an argument that lasted more than 10 seconds with your significant other about the name of an actor in a movie or the lyric of a song? Argue? Let’s Google it. Dang, she’s right again!

Many of our friends (and some of our family members, who will remain nameless) are constantly grabbing for their smartphones to verify facts and to drill down more deeply into any topic being discussed, anywhere, anytime. We have to admit that both of us feel the pinch of isolation whenever we are “off the grid” and unable to connect to the people, systems, and most importantly, the information that reduce our uncertainty and help us with our decision-making. People are on these devices so much that researchers are saying it is all driven by a fear of missing out.

What’s Next?

 
The IBM DIKW pyramid that shows how data and wisdom will work together. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DIKW_Pyramid.

So now we come to the next frontier that is being labeled “The Internet of Things.” IBM thought leaders have been talking about the world possessing a central nervous system, with everyday devices generating a constant flow of data. Things like thermostats, any device that runs on electricity, sensors on water flow, our automobiles, healthcare devices like IV pumps, refrigerators, security monitors, surgical suite technologies — basically all of the devices that contain transistors in the world — are components of this central nervous system. There are already, therefore, more things on the Internet than people using the Internet. Projections are that we will end up having more than 250 billion connections worldwide that will be active on the Internet in the next 10 years. Coupled along with this is a movement toward population health in the United States. Success in this kind of endeavor can only be possible through the analysis of “big data” that consists of an overwhelming ocean of information that must be analyzed and acted upon to improve outcomes, contain costs, and allow for sustainable success in our healthcare system. Intel and other system companies are creating the connectivity chip to be low cost and tiny, while being powerful enough to capture and transmit the data generated by the billions of things being connected. IBM has created a DIKW pyramid where the bottom level is data, the next level is information, piled on that is knowledge, and the top of the pyramid is wisdom. The IBM supercomputer called Watson is currently taking images of cancer cells and cataloging which are benign and which are malignant. It then looks at which chemotherapy agents are most effective for any specific type of cancer. When its work is completed, oncologists will be able to have additional information, knowledge, and perhaps wisdom on the most appropriate treatment for individual patients within a population being served. This big data application is well beyond the capacity of the human mind to process on its own.

 
The IBM supercomputer Watson is processing big data that is beyond the human mind. Source: http://www.ibm.com/smarterplanet/us/en/ibmwatson/

We always try to ask the question of our audiences, “How many of you would like to stay in your own home and out of a healthcare or assisted-living institution for as long as possible?” Almost every hand in the room shoots up in response. So here is where we start to try to help pharmacists get ready for the Internet of Things. We told you at the beginning of the Internet that the people who need you and the services you offer might search for you on the Internet. Neither of us have picked up the Yellow Pages for more than a decade, and yet some of you are only listed there and in online versions of these old books.

Next, we told you that mobile devices were increasingly within three feet of your patients 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Many of you thought, “How interesting!” Most of you went home and got busy in your pharmacy but neglected to find out how you could connect and use the mobile channel to increase your services with your patients. We are now telling you about the next level that is happening already around us, and that is an opportunity for you to morph your practice yet again. Think about it. Automobiles right now are driving themselves around the country. Your automobile is emailing you about how it’s doing on maintenance issues and tire pressure. You are able to have your smartphone alert you when an intruder has entered your home or pharmacy. Wearable technology is available from hundreds of different sources.

So here is our challenge to everyone reading this column. We told you the Internet was going to be a BIG thing. Did you take advantage of it? We told you mobile technology was going to be a REALLY BIG thing. Have you done anything about this, or are you going to do anything about this opportunity? The Internet of Things is going to be a really, really big thing. Will you please consider how this next wave of technology can be used to keep you connected with population health initiatives and have your pharmacy be an active contributor within the continuum of care required to be successful managing a population of patients? We are here to help. Wherever you are, the Internet, mobile technology, or the Internet of Things, let’s not kick the can down the road. CT


Bill G. Felkey, M.S., is professor emeritus, and Brent I. Fox, Pharm.D., Ph.D., is an associate professor, in the Department of Health Outcomes Research and Policy, Harrison School of Pharmacy, Auburn University. They can be reached at felkebg@auburn.edu and foxbren@auburn.edu.