IoT revolution in healthcare

Internet of Things (IoT) -or better- Internet of Everything in Healthcare

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According to an article published by Forbes, IoT, simply put, is the concept of basically connecting any device with an on and off switch to the Internet (and/or to each other).

Contrary to what we observe in big data, healthcare industry is among the fastest to adopt the IoT. According to McKinsey spending on the medical IoT will reach a staggering $1 trillion by 2025 and, will bring highly personalized, accessible, timely healthcare for everyone.

Wearable technology has been the most obvious use case with motion trackers and vital sign measurements, valued at over 5 billion$ in 2016 and can reach a value of over 12 billion$ by 2021 according to MarketsandMarkets. People don’t seem to get enough of what their smart watch coupled with their mobile Health app can do. And it is only going to get more popular. According to Bitkom, 75% of Germans would be willing to send data on their vital signs to their doctor in the event of illness. The figure among patients suffering from a chronic disease is even 93%. As mentioned by Brian Ray, in a recent report by Ericsson Consumer Labs titled From healthcare to homecare: The critical role of 5G in healthcare transformation, the Swedish network infrastructure vendor’s research arm, based on survey results, concludes that patients want to take control of access to and quality of healthcare using telemedicine, mobile applications and wearable IoT devices. Ericsson researchers suggest that 5G will be needed to support massive machine-type communications and applications with varying data requirements.

The whole idea behind tracking every single track-able data is to keep the healthy out of trouble and to help the patients manage better their risk factors and chronic conditions/treatments.

Some examples of current patient-centric IoT solutions:

  • Geographical tracking: Through IoT, one can track a patient’s whereabouts when they require emergency care or take quick measures when an elderly patient remains motionless for a relatively long time. Within the hospital, medical equipment such as defibrillators, wheelchairs, monitoring devices, etc. can be tagged with IoT sensors to locate them easily. Hospitals can use IoT for inventory management in pharmacies and warehouses.
  • Vital signs measurement/ remote tracking: glucometers, blood pressure cuffs and other devices can collect data and statistics on vital signs of patients in a more automated fashion to allow earlier interventions when needed. We can do even more with in-home medical devices to monitor vital signs in a wireless fashion and integrate those data directly into the EHR. The wearable devices can become nanorobots that circulate in our bloodstream one day to monitor even more values than we can currently imagine.
  • Motion tracking: We are all familiar with FitBit and other activity trackers which can count our steps, running pace, distance etc. Valencell announced the launch of two sensor systems — one for hearables and one for wearables worn on the wrist and arm. Both measure continuous heart rate, VO2 and VO2 max, resting heart rate, caloric burn and recovery. There are some other use cases to motion tracking. Gyenno technologies for instance launched a Smart Spoon and Fork designed to offset hand tremors from Parkinson’s Disease and other unsteadiness-causing conditions. The devices collect data about tremors, informing doctors and researchers. ActionSense glove is designed to rehabilitate and monitor stiffness in finger joints for patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis, post-stroke patients with reduced mobility or post-hand surgery to assess hand mobility.
  • Sleep tracking: the 360 Smart Bed, has a biometric sensor technology, Sleep IQ, to track heart rate, motion and breathing and respond in near-real time to prevent snoring. All the sleeping activity is sent to a companion app so users can track their sleep quality over time, learn their “SleepIQ Score.
  • Realtime environmental monitoring: IoT devices can check room temperature, pressure, humidity, air pollution, lighting, oxygen levels etc. and give recommendations for a healthier living. Boston MEdical Center installed wireless sensors in refrigerators, freezers and laboratories to ensure that blood samples, medications and other materials are kept at the proper temperatures. Temperature monitoring is particularly important in pharmaceutical supply chains.
  • Parental control: IoT can check baby’s heart rate, breathing, sleep cycles, temperature, poop quality (!).
  • Mood tracking: UK-based BioBeats unveiled the latest version of Hear and Now, an app designed to reduce stress and improve well-being, which acts as a mindfulness coach to guide users through customized breathing exercises and identify stress triggers.
  • Insideables: A pill containing a small electronic circuit, powered by the acids in the stomach can relay information about a person’s diet to an external monitor, as well as reporting on the levels of any medications.
  • Protective care devices: these monitor patient actions following their physical-therapy or wound-care plans to reduce readmission rates. We can also monitor out-of-ordinary driving behaviors and sleep levels of drivers to reduce road accidents.
  • Acute care clinics can become new phenomenon following the IoT making sense of data and patients becoming expert of their own healthcare: freestanding emergent and urgent care clinics that treat patients with acute but non-life threatening conditions, including wounds and fractures, simple infections, mild heart conditions, slightly abnormal blood test results — with no facility fees, no appointments necessary, and more diagnostic/ treatment capabilities.

These examples are not exhaustive and are increasing exponentially. Despite the utility of IoT, we have many challenges to address. The first and possibly the most serious of challenges is privacy. As data becomes easily accessible over cloud, the protection becomes primordial to prevent private and sensitive data to fall into the wrong hands who can damage careers, reputation and health security of many individuals by hacking and falsifying their data.

Ezgi Tasdemir #exploringfuture

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Coming soon:

In the transition from sick care to healthcare, we will soon explore further the role of exponential technologies in medicine, such as artificial intelligence, diagnostics, companion robots, nanotechnology, telemedicine, genetic and tissue engineering, organ printing and virtual& augmented reality.

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Ezgi Tasdemir is a Novartis Oncology employee. This article is created by Ezgi Tasdemir. All the views, analysis, and perspectives are fully independent and belong to the author only, they do not represent the views or opinions of Novartis or any other company or organization. The author does not receive any funding or support from Novartis or any other pharmaceutical/non-pharmaceutical company for this blog.