Insights into IoT in Healthcare

The Device Chronicle interviews Dr Boris Adryan, Head of Digital & Data Capability Building for Healthcare at Merck on the potential of digital and IoT for improved healthcare

Dr Boris Adryan has expertise and research interests in areas as diverse as computational biology through to embedded electronics. He got into electronics from biology. He remarks that in 2014, the Raspberry Pi became popular and this attracted him to IoT. 

IoT in Healthcare expert
Dr Boris Adryan, Head of Digital & Data Capability Building for Healthcare at Merck

Entrance to IoT

Boris first immersed himself in IoT in 2014 by starting to attend various meetups: There, he observed some disconnect in terms of the deeper understanding required in each discipline to connect the dots in IoT. He observed that many IoT professionals would only seem to touch the surface and not go deep into details. He says “they would not know the physics required to bring the apparatus to the market.” Boris believes that “You must know how all parts fit into the IoT ecosystem. The people who compute are not necessarily the people who do the communications for the hardware.” To address this need for a more complete comprehension of IoT, Boris published a book on the breadth of IoT to help users get the fuller picture. This was 480 pages of everything you need to know from matter to securing an IoT device with minimal human interaction, it was published by Arctic House with a flagship journal called Microwave. The book was not a commercial success but Boris says he learned a lot from researching the book. 

Professional responsibilities

In his role at Merck, Boris is looking at biological data and how machine learning can be used to extract key insights from the data. When it comes to the application of IoT and embedded technologies in pharmaceutical and healthcare, Boris observes that there is a wish list of things that are interesting to healthcare companies. He starts with personal health devices. “All these personal health devices such as a Fitbit or an Apple watch provide insights into how people are living their lives or how their bodies are reacting to certain stimuli. “These stimuli include increased pulse and heart rate as a delta to entering a train station.” This is interesting information for healthcare companies to help build an understanding of how efficiently drugs can work in certain people, and providing data about efficacy of a drug in people that are more active versus people sitting on the sofa from the fitbit. The goal, he says, is “to satisfy and make inference from the data that healthcare companies already have, by combining it with this data that comes from these personal health devices.” 

New possibilities

Boris believes that there are other exciting possibilities for the application of these insights: Such as answering questions like what is the compliance level of patients when it comes to taking their medicines at the right prescribed times? Do they take medicine between 8am and 12 noon or exactly as prescribed? Boris asks could this information be relayed to the company through a beacon in the screw on cap? “The blister pack with a bluetooth beacon, so when pressing out the pill, the modulation of the signal and software on the phone could tell how many blisters had already been pressed. Materials developers are already keenly aware of these possibilities.” 

Barriers to innovation

But Boris says there are some barriers to innovation in this area: He says “There are stringent regulatory constraints: Who does the calibration between an Apple Watch, Fitbit and Samsung devices to ensure they are consistent? Are the readings accurate enough to stratify the patient cohort data further? Boris says firmly we are not there yet with data alignment and accuracy such that this derived data from portable devices would be useful for patient analysis. He says “We lack the platforms to calibrate, harmonize and share and make the data available to a pharmaceutical company to conduct research. Would you trust your data with a small start up, or Google, there is no simple yes or no answer.” 

Security first

Boris points out that the role of IoT and edge technologies in pharmaceutical production is similar to any other sector, in that device security is pivotal. “There are plenty of air gapped systems and data analysis is strictly controlled for good reason. Who secures the data and who analyses the data? Is the data analysis worth it? These questions must be satisfied with the right answers before projects can proceed.” 

He concludes that IoT can be frustrating at times with slow adoption: He says “It (IoT) is not revolutionary but more evolutionary. The fourth industrial revolution is not a revolution but actually a step wise process over the next 20 years.”

We wish Boris and his colleagues at Merck well on their journey of healthcare innovation and improved patient outcomes.  


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