- The application of IoT in healthcare
- Most commonly used medical devices in hospitals
- Most popular connectivity technologies used by medical facilities
- Examples of healthcare IoT solutions
- Benefits of IoT in healthcare
The Internet of Things has already changed the world. It influences both the way we live and our work. Today, as Broadband Internet is available and affordable almost everywhere, and Wi-Fi capabilities and sensors have been built into a wide range of devices and gadgets, the penetration of wearables and smartphones is soaring. All these aspects have cleared a path for the IoT in the everyday lives of people and in numerous sectors of the economy, including healthcare
Though other industries have adopted connected devices and the IoT more quickly, healthcare professionals watch this trend closely, which can make their work more convenient, efficient, and automated in the future. The Business Insider forecasted the growth of the installed base of healthcare IoT devices (wearable devices excluded) from approximately 95 million in 2015 to 646 million in 2020.
The application of IoT in healthcare
The real revolution in electronic healthcare started in the US after the creation of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH Act) legislation in 2009 to stimulate the adoption of electronic health records (EHR) and supporting technology.
Then, portal technology allowed patients to be more engaged in their treatment as they could access their medical records, prepare for appointments, and contact their doctors. Home monitoring systems also let patients and care providers track individual health in real-time mode while patients stay at home, which is extremely beneficial for patients with long-term conditions and elderly people.
The next step seems obvious – the IoT will allow electronic devices that capture or monitor data to connect to a private or public cloud so that these devices can automatically trigger certain events. Given the numerous smart devices in healthcare, such as thermometers, blood-gas analyzers, glucose meters, smart beds, mobile X-ray machines, ultrasound units, etc., the IoT in healthcare can transform patient care.
The healthcare IoT has become a market with a lot of potentials, and IT giants have already rushed into it to establish dominance in this sector. According to a report recently released by Grand View Research, global IoT devices in the healthcare market was valued at USD 58.4 billion in 2014 and by 2020 it will be worth nearly USD 410 billion. Major companies, such as Medtronic Inc., Philips, Cisco Systems, IBM Corporation, GE Healthcare, and Microsoft Corporation develop products for special medical applications.
For example, Microsoft has built the Microsoft Azure cloud platform for cloud-based delivery of healthcare services. There are also numerous startups in this domain, such as Connected Health, EarlySense, Proteus Digital Health, and Awarepoint, to name a few. Besides technological developments, there are other factors facilitating the growth of the healthcare Internet of things.
One of them is the growing prevalence of chronic diseases (heart failure, obesity, diabetes, etc.) and an aging geriatric population prone to various chronic diseases (according to Census Bureau data, 15% of the US population in 2015 was over 65 years old).
Another factor is constant economic development and governments interested in using digital health solutions to improve access to healthcare services and decrease care costs.
Most commonly used medical devices in hospitals
Medical devices used for various healthcare applications can be subdivided into 3 major groups:
- Wearable external devices
Usually, these are biosensors that monitor physiological data with remote/wireless communication which can be used for telemedicine and inpatient monitoring. For example, these devices monitor blood pressure, EKG, temperature, continuous glucose, oxygen level, etc.
- Implanted medical devices
As defined by Wikipedia, implanted devices “replace a missing biological structure or support a damaged biological structure, or enhance an existing biological structure”. This category includes implantable infusion pumps and other drug-delivery devices, cardiac pacemakers, implantable neurostimulator systems, glucose monitors.
- Stationary medical devices
There is a wide range of stationary medical equipment, it can be used for various applications, such as clinical operations (surgical devices) and connected imaging (X-ray machines and MRI machines), lab tests, patient health monitoring, drug delivery, and medication management, etc.
The increasing number of various connected medical devices transforms the way healthcare services are provided. Telemedicine, or telehealth, has made care delivery more dynamic and made it more patient-centered. As the number of connected medical devices grows, so does the amount of data they generate. Healthcare networks and devices are becoming smarter and more complex and demand efficient, convenient, and safe connectivity technologies.
Most popular connectivity technologies used by medical facilities
According to Grand View Research, the most popular connectivity technologies used by medical facilities to connect various devices are:
- Bluetooth Low Energy
Of course, when utilizing the Internet of Things, healthcare facilities must comply with HIPAA privacy and security rules. Usually, the IT departments of hospitals and medical centers use secure methods to send medical data to and from the cloud, but there are still challenges to overcome.
In 2013 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration released guidance on securing medical devices, and it is likely that regulatory authorities will regulate the domain of connected devices used by patients.
Examples of healthcare IoT solutions
The number of adopters of the Internet of Things in healthcare is growing steadily, as well as the number of solutions for various applications, such as monitoring patient vitals, gathering patient data, monitoring medical assets, and automated treatment devices, to name a few.
Let’s consider some examples of IoT solutions in healthcare that look very promising.
- Monitoring solutions
Monitoring solutions are developed by many medical device manufacturers, producers of wearables, and IT companies developing smartphone applications. These solutions monitor the vitals of patients and help to reduce, for instance, the occurrence of strokes or diabetic comas.
For example, in 2016, Roche obtained distribution rights for its Eversense CGM System, which is an implantable long-term continuous glucose monitoring system using a 90-day sensor implanted below the patient’s skin and a mobile phone app to send blood glucose levels.
- Automated treatment devices
Automated treatment devices improve the quality of life for chronic patients and help doctors control medication adherence. One good example of a successful IoT application is Philips’s medication dispensing service created for elderly people. The device alerts patients when it’s time to take their pills (light and voice reminder built-in), and after the button is pushed by the patient, pre-filled cups with medication are dispensed.
- Real-time location system for hospitals and other medical facilities
AirFinder is a real-time location system (RTLS) that uses open-source iBeacon and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology and Symphony Link integration. The system allows tracking supplies in an operating room or throughout an entire hospital or facility.
It is obvious that the IoT can be a boon for the healthcare industry, but what are the specific benefits for patients and caregivers?
Benefits of IoT in healthcare
We already see that technology changing healthcare makes this industry less dependent on humans (and less susceptible to human error as well) and more patient-oriented at the same time. The major advantages of the Internet of Things that healthcare organizations can benefit from are:
- Lower costs
Using IoT solutions and connected medical devices allows healthcare providers to monitor patients in real-time. This means fewer unnecessary visits to the doctor, and fewer hospital stays and readmissions thanks to efficient data collection and management.
- Better patient experience
Being connected to the health care system through the Internet of things, patients get more engaged in their treatment, and doctors improve diagnosis accuracy since they have all the necessary patient data at hand.
- Better management of drugs and medicine adherence
IoT solutions allow hospital staff to spend less time searching for drugs, track supplies and medicine, and track hygiene practices in hospitals and effectively prevent hospital infections. Healthcare IoT monitoring solutions help patients adhere to their treatment plans and doctors to track compliance with prescriptions.
- Reduced errors and waste
Using IoT for data collection and workflow automation is an excellent way to cut down on waste (such as unnecessary tests and expensive imaging), reduce system costs, and minimize errors (especially the ones related to the human factor).
- Improved Outcomes of Treatment
Healthcare solutions that are connected through cloud computing and use big data, can provide caregivers with the ability to access real-time data which can be used to make informed decisions and to provide evidence-based treatments.
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