When the humanity entered the new era of relative welfare for everyone, better health and longer lives of people brought new challenges for the healthcare industry. When chronic diseases do not kill you, and you can easily live through your 100th anniversary, healthcare providers should adapt their ways of monitoring your health so that they will not be overwhelmed with the amount of your century-long data.
One of the possible answers to the new challenges has been the implementation of the Internet of Things for healthcare, or the Internet of Medical Things.
Healthcare is such a vast ecosystem, that the applications of the Internet of Things in healthcare seem to be endless: from remote monitoring and personal healthcare to smart sensors and medical device integration, as well as the pharmaceutical industry, healthcare insurance, RTHS, healthcare building facilities, robotics, smart pills, and even treatments of diseases. It has the potential to not only keep patients safe and healthy, but to improve how physicians deliver care as well.
So far, the IoT in healthcare is mainly focused on remote monitoring and telemonitoring and on tracking, monitoring and maintenance of assets.
The cornerstone of it is therefore electronic health records (EHR), the concept of computerized health records which emerged already in the 1980s, but became commonplace only in the recent years. The use of EMR promises to advance coordination of medical care, facilitate interaction with patients and families and reduce disparities in healthcare improving its efficiency. This has become the central idea of telehealth — a pool of technologies and tactics to deliver virtual medical, health, and education services.
“The use of electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support long-distance clinical health care, patient and professional health-related education, public health and health administration”, as defined by Health Resources and Services Administration, telehealth has penetrated various fields of healthcare services, including chronic disease monitoring and management, home health, physical and occupational therapy, consumer and professional education, disaster management and even dentistry.
Telehealth encompasses four key domains of applications:
Live video: Live, two-way interaction between an individual (patient, caregiver, or provider) and a provider using audiovisual telecommunications technology. Live video can be used for both consultative and diagnostic and treatment services.
Store-and-forward technology: Transmission of recorded health history such as pre-recorded videos and digital images through a secure electronic communications system to a practitioner to evaluate the case or render a service without live interaction.
Remote patient monitoring: Personal health and medical data are collected from an individual in one location and afterwards are transmitted to a provider in a different location for use in care and related support. In this way the provider can track healthcare data for a patient once released to home or a care facility, reducing readmission rates. This approach can maintain individuals’ health in their home and community, without making them physically go to the providers’ office.
Mobile health, or mHealth: Healthcare and public health practice and education supported by mobile communication devices such as smartphones, tablets, or PDAs. Applications can range from targeted text messages to wide-scale alerts about disease outbreaks, or whatever other option you choose for yourself.
The integration of EHR systems with the IoT can create broad personalized healthcare solutions which could enable the following:
- Connect any wearable/portable device to the cloud, pull and analyze collected patient data in real time;
- Monitor vital health indicators collected by portable devices;
- Charts and diagram visualization based on collected data;
- Monitor patients at home with the help of live video and audio streaming;
- Intelligent emergency notifications sent to a physician and/or family.
Wearable devices and home health monitoring devices assisting patients is a common thing now. Such healthcare devices as insulin pumps, defibrillators, scales, CPAP machines, cardiac monitoring devices and oxygen tanks are now connected in the IoT to ensure remote monitoring, providing patients and their caregivers valuable real-time information.
Wearable devices, for example, can immediately send out alerts for emergency medical help. Fitness bands, even though marketed as “wellness solutions” rather than medical devices, can take vital data from the body throughout the day and transmit wirelessly to computers, smartphones or tablets.
Moreover, some medical device manufacturers already offer a cloud based platform that enables wireless transfer, storage, and display of clinical data. This platform provides for interoperability with a variety of medical devices and apps and generates enormous amount of clinical data which would help the healthcare industry in many research.
Internet of Things (IoT)-based medical devices can get patients out of the hospital more quickly, or keep them out altogether, and save organizations money. On the other hand, interconnectivity can provide for easy data collection, asset management, OTA updates and device remote control and monitoring.
Continuing the line of other “smart” facilities, “smart hospitals” constitute hospitals of a new type that can optimize, redesign or build new clinical processes and management systems thanks to digitized networking infrastructure of interconnected assets. Smart hospitals rely on optimized and automated processes, built on the Internet of Things and on the big data revolution which combines connected devices with cloud computing, big data analytics and artificial intelligence (AI).
The smart hospital involves three essential layers — data, insight and access. Data is being collected on the daily basis, to be fed to analytics or machine learning software to derive a “smart” insight. It is this new ability to provide a valuable insight that makes a hospital a step further from being just digital, making it truly smart. This insight must be accessible to any potential user — a doctor, a nurse, facilities personnel or any other stakeholder, through an interface including a desktop or a mobile device, so that they could make critical decisions faster.
There are three areas that any smart hospital addresses — operations, clinical tasks and patient centricity.
Efficiency at operations can be achieved by building automation systems and implementing smart asset maintenance and management solutions, improving internal logistics of mobile assets and control over people flow.
Efficiency in clinical tasks is concerned with ways to improve doctors’ and nurses’ work efficiency, especially the emergency, surgery and radiology areas. Clinical efficiency also involves improving patient outcomes by ensuring patient engagement and monitoring.
Patient centricity of smart hospitals means improving the patient experience, such as building a smart patient room, which allows voice-based interactive devices such as Amazon Echo with Alexa or tablets, to call nurses or dim the lights.
Smaller-scale but fascinating applications of the IoT in healthcare include development of devices that make patients’ lives more comfortable:
Hearables are new-age hearing aids that are compatible with Bluetooth which syncs the patient’s smartphone with them. This approach allows filtering, equalizing and adding layered features to real-world sounds.
Ingestible sensors. These pill-sized sensors monitor the medication in the patient’s body and warns if it detects any irregularities. The immediate application is for diabetic patients as it might curb symptoms and provide with an early warning for diseases.
Moodables are mood enhancing devices which are capable of improving our mood. Moodables are head-mounted wearable devices that send low-intensity current to the brain to elevate our mood.
Computer vision technology and AI in general has given rise to drones which aim to mimic visual perception and decision making based on it. Drones can also help visually impaired people to navigate.
However, these developments are rather scattered and far from perfection. The main obstacles, like elsewhere in the IoT, are the cost, challenging integration of multiple devices, and, above all, data security and privacy.
Nevertheless, integrating IoT features into medical devices shall transform the healthcare service, bringing especially high value for the elderly, patients with chronic conditions, and those requiring constant supervision. According to some estimates, spending on the IoT solutions in healthcare will reach $1 trillion by 2025 and, hopefully, will provide everyone with personalized, accessible, and up-to-the-point healthcare services. By 2019, 87% of #healthcare organizations will have adopted IoT technology