The Spark

How Digital Technology is Changing the Landscape of Health Care

Doctor performing surgery
Vladimir Smirnov | TSS | Getty Images

The health care industry is turning to high tech to help consumers think healthy.

Even with hacking threats and privacy breaches everywhere, technology and health companies are using connected health — an emerging field that links patients and doctors remotely — to boost health care analysis and diagnoses.

With that in mind, the AT&T Foundry for Connected Health opened last week, with a goal to use the internet of things, another hot technology field, to innovate the health care space.

The Spark: Rise of connected health

AT&T's Foundry which resides inside Texas Medical Center's Innovation Institute in Houston, is currently developing technology like a connected wheelchair to monitor patients in real-time. The company is also working on an electroencephalogram headband, a vital signs monitoring device, to detect patient discomfort.

Chris Penrose, senior vice president of AT&T's Internet of Things division, said that by connecting things that haven't been connected before, caregivers and doctors will have the ability to better monitor patients. They can also improve overall patient life, both at home and at health care facilities.

"This is a real way we can bridge together what you're doing in your home with the health care ecosystem to provide a better experience for that patient," Penrose told CNBC's "Closing Bell".

The overall connected health market is expected to see huge growth in the coming years. A 2015 report by, estimated the health care internet of things is poised to hit $117 billion within the next several years.

Robert Graboyes, senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, predicts connected health care will be a dominate form of medicine in a few years — especially when looking at millennials who are comfortable dealing with electronic devices, he said.

"There is a convergence of technology that is opening up — big data, artificial intelligence — and it's allowing doctors to identify patterns in health that wouldn't have been available to intuitive practitioners," Graboyes said.

Although connected health is a growing industry, with things like artificial intelligence and robotics entering the realm and building excitement, the overall idea is not a new phenomenon.

Analyst Tom Carroll, managing director at Stifel, said that health information technology has been through many cycles. Those precursors have spurred developments like electronic data and record keeping that are hallmarks of the health industry.

Carroll added that recent advancements in technology makes today feel like another revolution in the health care space.

Dr. Steven C. Garner, chairman of radiology at New York Methodist Hospital, told CNBC that connected health innovations are not only beneficial for collecting and reporting data, they can also be beneficial for the hospital, helping cash-strapped institutions to save money.

Garner said health tech in hospitals actually saves the hospital money, because doctors can better monitor patients and get second opinions from other medical professionals who may not be physically in the building. That ultimately can lead to quicker discharge times for patients.

The use of some robotics in surgery, Garner said, can also cut down on complications. He noted some doctors will use robots that can perform surgical tasks that result in less bleeding and fewer complications for certain surgeries.

"The accuracy of the technology can help cut down on a lot of problems," Garner said.