Managing Athlete Health in the Age of the Internet of Things

by   |   September 2, 2015 5:30 am   |   3 Comments

Puneet Suppal of SAP

Puneet Suppal of SAP

We are getting more connected every day. Business networks fueled by the Internet of Things (IoT) are breaking down barriers unlike at any other time in history. Because of this phenomenon and all the data generated in the process, we see data and analytics used to solve problems in novel ways. I deliberately choose to call it “data” as opposed to labeling it “big data” because often the problems of working with data and getting to actionable insights are very similar irrespective of whether the situation rises to the level of a big data issue. But let’s reserve that conversation for another day.

This heightened connectivity and the ability to deal competently with large quantities of data are impacting nearly every field and facet of life, including how the health and wellness of professional athletes are managed. I have been close to this action these past few months and some things have become abundantly clear.

On the healthcare front, data and connectivity have the potential to improve greatly the quality of both the consumer and provider experience. Technology makes it increasingly possible to personalize healthcare, even going down to an individual’s genetic and phenotypic information. We see a growing trend in patient-centric devices, such as Jawbone’s UP, Diabetes detectors, Fitbit, and other such wearables. To deploy solutions that work effectively and seamlessly with these requires a platform that does not have limitations around interoperability and real-time capabilities, a platform that captures data from disparate sources such as wearables, phones, and other devices and pulls it all together to give a patient and caregiver a holistic and real-time view of the patient’s health.

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In sports, as in other arenas, for organizations that represent a body (team, club, association, country, etc.), cost is an important factor. The estimated average cost of player injuries in the top four professional soccer leagues in 2015 was $12.4 million per team. It is estimated that every year soccer teams lose an equivalent of 10 percent  to 30 percent of player payroll to injuries. This means that even a small reduction in the number of injuries could add up to big savings. Proper individualized fitness and wellness regimes, together with technique correction efforts, can be very effective at preventing these injuries. For individual professional athletes, injury prevention is a matter of livelihood – many a promising sporting career has come to a premature end – and their dreams to excel beyond their imaginations.

At the SAP Hyper Connected Healthcare Summit Seoul, South Korea, on August 13, I participated in a panel discussion with Coach Choi Young Joon, an instructor and technical committee member with the Korea Football Association, and Kim Jin-goo, a professor of orthopedic surgery at Konkuk  University. We were joined on the panel by Hong Sung Hyun, who at one time was considered a very promising and upcoming soccer player. He represented the Yonsei University soccer team, a top collegiate team, winning the U-League in 2010 and again in 2012. Just when it seemed he was on the verge of launching into a rewarding career as a professional soccer player, he suffered a knee injury. He was forced to quit his professional soccer career in July 2014. The experts agreed that we need a way to deliver a data-driven solution that can provide the basis for better managing a soccer player’s fitness and health.

Earlier this year, I had an opportunity to visit with Shaun Tait, a well-known cricket player, in Australia. He set the record for the second fastest ball of all time – at 161.1kph (100.1 mph) – in 2010 and is the fastest among active bowlers (as of January 3, 2015). It is a matter of public record that Shaun has been injury-prone during his career. He joined me and a panel of other experts in Melbourne in March for a discussion that centered on the need for a system that could help players, physiologists, and coaches address the issue of injuries.

It is my belief that if we polled players across a range of professional sports, we’d find this to be a recurring theme: We need a cloud-based solution with a true real-time platform at the core that is rendered with 21st century user-experience design. A solution that can instantly digest and process a wide variety of data with no qualms about quantity or velocity is what is needed to solve a problem that, at its core, is an analytics issue addressing a data problem. The use of wearable sensors to monitor an athlete’s vital signs removes uncertainty when determining how well the athlete is doing and makes the monitoring and data collection fairly unobtrusive. The challenge is that there are very few entities out there that can pull this all together under one seamless solution without a lot of unnecessary integration points and at an affordable price.

But the initial steps to make this a reality are being taken. We are working on a solution to monitor athletes, predict injuries, and help implement a relevant intervention program. It is designed to leverage copious quantities of pre-existing data together with live data to help compute the risk of injury. It is intended to help plan and execute, with appropriate monitoring, measures that will reduce injury risk and help a player attain a more healthy playing life.

With healthcare and technology coming together in this fashion, we are at an exciting moment in history – it is no longer about improving the speed or agility of data alone. This convergence can lead to innovations that become a game changer and, potentially, a life changer.

Puneet Suppal is a seasoned IT strategist and thought leader specializing in SAP products for real-time business advantage. Experienced at leading global initiatives across multiple IT platforms, serving numerous verticals, Puneet specializes in driving business value by aligning people, technology, and business processes. Currently, he is focused on technology-driven innovation with customers and partners that drives business and social advancement. In particular, he is passionate about crafting solutions that leverage the Internet of Things, often to deliver actionable analytics to address data problems.

Recognized as an authority within the SAP ecosystem, he frequently writes and speaks on the importance of focusing on business processes, as well as on in-memory computing and mobility. Follow him on Twitter  @puneetsuppal.

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  1. Preeti Gill
    Posted September 6, 2015 at 2:55 am | Permalink

    Marvelous synopsis of how technology is being used to better serve human endeavor

  2. Puneet Suppal
    Posted September 18, 2015 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, Preeti. What good is technology if we can’t use it to better the human condition?!

  3. Souvik Dhara
    Posted October 1, 2015 at 7:31 am | Permalink

    Excellent article, enriched with a mind-blowing concept. Thanks Puneet. Will wait for your future writings.

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