Technology Corner


Ten years ago, RadioShack was celebrating its 84th year of being in business and was thought of by many as the “go to” place to see new technology. Even though they partnered with Sprint, they couldn’t command enough interest in this world today, where smartphones are the mainstream focus. Didn’t they know that the wearable technology and the Internet of Things was where everything was heading? Didn’t they know that Amazon was going to supply nearly every component of their inventory and ship it quickly without charging sales tax? Ten years ago the first video was uploaded on YouTube and desktop computer sales were just starting to be trumped by laptops, but three years later the trend was in full force.

Our wives liked the styling of Coldwater Creek and Loft clothes displayed in our local retail store, but are now shopping for their fashions from a catalog and then executing their orders online. Ten years ago Facebook was a digital playground for Harvard University students, and today has more than 1.2 billion subscribers. The majority of American women who are members on this social network check in on it every day within 10 minutes of getting out of bed. Ten years ago we still had the occasional argument with our spouses concerning the lyrics of the song or an actor or actress who starred in the movie we had seen two years ago.

We received an email last week telling about a Baylor University professor who has written a book on the idea that technology has become too much of a good thing in the lives of our citizens. The first wave of our ubiquitous connectivity began when we connected our computers to the Internet. It was estimated that 1 billion machines were communicating via this infrastructure. The next wave was made up of the mobile technology connectivity we all enjoy. Two billion connections between devices were established. Be honest with yourself. If you could have guessed how mobile technology was going to permeate the lives of your patients, would you have taken early steps to do something that would take advantage of this trend? Are you taking advantage of it now, when you are steeped in the myriad ways you have available to connect with your patients?

Do you have a website yet that interacts and provides the opportunity to do transactions that go beyond what your personnel must handle in a face-to-face encounter? Is your website mobile technology friendly? Do you ask your patients what they have for connectivity preferences? Have you found a way to employ a third-party or branded mobile app to support your practice? Have you even noticed how people employ their mobile technologies while shopping or waiting for prescriptions to be dispensed? If you can say “yes” to most of these questions, get ready for the next wave that we are about to describe. If you are answering “no” to most of these questions, we assume that you are so close to retirement that you are wearing a small (maybe large) smile on your face.

What’s Next?

The next wave of connectivity is something we mentioned earlier called the Internet of Things (IoT). Connectivity is being predicted at 250 billion devices worldwide. Are you receiving communication from your car, your appliances, your home electronics, your thermostat, your wearable fitness band, your health outcomes monitoring devices, your security cameras, your mailbox monitoring device, your package delivery services, your credit cards and bank, and your weather and news bureaus? The central idea is that when all of the devices in common, everyday use can become connected in an intelligent fashion, our physical world becomes one big information system. Think about it. Are you going to watch it happen while sitting on the sidelines, or are you going to capitalize on this next wave?

Do you believe that your pharmacy management system will be the hub of information management for any venture that you undertake in this space?

What technology would benefit your patients if their homes were connected with devices that facilitate adherence to their medication regimen, measure and communicate vital signs and health outcome data, create better security and protection against falls, encourage lifestyle changes, and monitor disease-specific data and behaviors? Could you begin thinking about how to get ready for the IoT wave by a simple brainstorming session? Would getting ready for the third wave cause you to examine how you are using technology on the first two waves? Do you believe that your pharmacy management system will be the hub of information management for any venture that you undertake in this space? We believe that — like every other technology adoption — integration into your existing systems will be critical.

To help you with your brainstorming, consider the following four categories and three very prevalent connectivity options. But start with the connectivity options. Intel and other manufacturers have been able to make a Wi-Fi chip that is about one quarter of the size of a dime and allows the circuit board that is in nearly every device to send and receive data from end users. The chips can optionally “sense” open Wi-Fi networks or restrict themselves to more secure communication. Bluetooth connectivity is the second means by which physical devices will communicate. This usually occurs within a 30-foot range, and security can be achieved through a pairing process. The third connectivity option is called near field communication (NFC). NFC is a radio connectivity that usually occurs when two devices either touch or are brought within 10 centimeters of each other. There are other ways to connect, but these are the ones most likely to be employed for your brainstorming purposes.

The categories that can drive your brainstorming session would begin with wearable devices. In this category, devices will typically connect to a smartphone, which then stores and transmits data where desired. These technologies will facilitate communication and a growing array of devices oriented to lifestyle and disease management. The second category of technology will be informational. This will be delivered to the smartphone or any entertainment device desired to bring just-in-time decision support to end users. Entertainment options will also be delivered according to the end user’s interests and preferences. The third category for consideration is home automation. A variety of sensors and devices are already on the market to facilitate this category. Just think of any product in the home and put the word “smart” in front of its name, and you will get the idea of what is going to be made available for your consideration. The final category is smart appliances. Smart refrigerators, toilets, washing machines, and transportation technology will become more and more autonomous.

We welcome your comments and questions regarding this column and invite you to contact us by e-mail. Buckle your seatbelts and join us on this next ride — which is surprisingly moving very quickly. 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.