Why Healthcare Needs the Internet of Things

Healthcare continues to evolve to meet the needs of consumers. One of the critical components that make that happen is the vast world of IoT. The Internet of Things (IoT) has the potential to solve many healthcare challenges.  Everyday medical devices can and do collect patient data, which allows invaluable insight for healthcare providers and patients. Symptoms and trends can be monitored and tracked. Telehealth can enable remote care and improve the patient experience.

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What is The Internet of Things?

The Internet of Things refers to smart devices that can collect and transmit data to a remote server, perform functions without any human intervention or automate tasks using voice commands. IoT devices are used everywhere, from smart homes and cars to games and business applications.

More healthcare organizations are beginning to adopt IoT technology into their day-to-day operations to improve the efficiency of the services they provide. However, healthcare’s initial investment in IoT is a small drop in a large pond.

Why is IoT Important in Healthcare?

Healthcare can be improved by steeping itself in technology. Currently, IoT is used for things like smart sensors, remote monitoring of patients, activity trackers, biometric sensors, medication dispensers, intelligent beds, glucose monitors, and medical device integration. A large percentage (64%) of the equipment used in healthcare that is connected to the internet and cloud services are patient monitoring devices.

Medical wearables can monitor things like blood pressure, oxygen levels, blood sugar levels, heartbeat, weight, and ECGs. Tech gurus are advancing the capabilities of these devices all the time.

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Safety of Family Doctors

The more that healthcare plunges into technology, the less place there is to hide. The internet is a very transparent venue with everything out in the open. Part of improving the quality of care is being able to rely on the standards of the right healthcare providers. Some of the ways that patients can use technology right now to ensure they get the best care are:

●      Check public records to look for any red flags such as malpractice lawsuits, DUIs, arrests, or any other indicators that perhaps it’s time to look elsewhere.

●      Check doctor review online. There are dedicated websites where patients can review surgeons, family physicians, and other types of specialty medical personnel.

●      Perform a Google search before starting to use a particular doctor and see what comes up.

Revolutionizing the Treatment and Diagnosis of Disease

There is hardly anything more important than good health. Should the healthcare industry fully commit to this technology, the benefits are unlimited. Patients and doctors would be connected in ways that we cannot currently conceive. One example might be shared calendars to coordinate visits and check-ups. Automatic alerts when something with the patient’s health changes. The patient’s chart would be saved in the cloud and linked to their wearable device, thus allowing the doctor immediate access to files and a much faster response time to diagnose and respond to illness. This level of connectivity would revolutionize the doctor’s ability to dispense treatment options.

It’s not that hard to imagine that monitoring devices could become smarter. Instead of just alerting the doctor, it would take action such as dispensing critical medicine or raising or lowering body temperature to save the patient’s life before the doctor even gets there. In 2017, the FDA approved the first digital pill that patients swallow. It then feeds data back to a wearable device on the user’s wrist. The digital pill’s intended use is to monitor dosage amounts for prescription medicine. However, the possibilities for this are endless.

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Benefits of IoT

Some of the vast benefits of IoT integration into healthcare are as follows:

Information is power. The data collected by millions of connected devices could potentially allow AI simulations to come up with solutions in a fraction of the time it takes now to develop vaccinations, cure illness, and solve other healthcare challenges. There are many long-term benefits, including disease management and potential cures, through data collection and analysis.

Chronic illness monitoring. Patients who require regular ongoing monitoring and care would benefit significantly from this type of connectivity. Diabetes patients can wear glucose monitoring wearables so their doctor can see their levels at any time of night or day. Additionally, heart patients could use smart pacemakers that send alerts if their heartbeat shows signs of arrhythmia or other abnormalities. IoT could save a lot of lives.

Improving patient care and doctor response time.  Wearable monitoring devices allow real-time evaluation and much shorter response times. These same devices can help in preventative care if say a patient’s cholesterol or glucose levels start to rise; the doctor can contact them immediately to provide guidance for change.

Telehealth and telemedicine. In rural areas, telemedicine and telehealth are widely used because medical facilities are far away. Video chat and connections through other IoT devices promote better relationships between patients and medical staff while increasing patient satisfaction.

IoT monitoring. Hospitals that use IoT to monitor equipment save in replacement costs and downtime. Monitoring systems alert admins when something requires maintenance, saving money, and potential liability if something were to go wrong.

Patient records.  Consolidating patient records into one file stored in the cloud would revolutionize access by any number of specialists who needed to review the patient’s chart. It would also help to eliminate errors, omissions, misdiagnosis, and help to avoid allergic reactions to medications. On the patient side of things, they would fill out one form, and that single record would follow them everywhere throughout their entire medical history—no need for more forms or unnecessary paperwork.

Staff monitoring and compliance.  Hospitals and medical offices are busy places, and managers don’t always have the time to watch everyone closely. Automating these tasks using technology can save millions in lawsuits and compliance issues.

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IoT Challenges

Along with the many benefits to using IoT for healthcare, there are, of course, many challenges that come along with it.

●      Data security and cybercrimes – hacking, data breaches, and malware are a constant concern regarding any computer, device, or electronic device that is connected to the internet. Security must be of the utmost priority when developing technology that patients and doctors can trust.

●      Integration: multiple devices & protocols – due to so many different operating systems, platforms, and programming languages, it can be challenging to standardize hardware and software protocols so that different systems can communicate effortlessly and effectively.

●      Data accuracy – although automation can improve data accuracy, it can also be the cause of data corruption. Consistent backups, routine testing, and evaluation also need to be part of the equation to ensure clean, quality data from which to work.

●      Storage and managing data – with the sheer volume of data, we are talking about the problem of where and how to store and manage it all becomes an issue.

●      Reliance on internet access – IoT is a great solution except for those populations who live in areas that are dark (without easy internet access). These life-saving technologies could save lives, but the point is moot if patients can’t use them.

The global healthcare system is fraught with many challenges, including skyrocketing costs, patient complaints of subpar treatment, and the scarcity of time and resources. The IoT would solve many of these problems by radically altering the landscape to something entirely new with innovative solutions, more desirable options, and benefits on both sides. It’s time to take the leap!

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Ben Hartwig is the content director for InfoTracer who takes a wide view from the whole system. He authors guides on the entire security posture, both physical and cyber. Enjoys sharing the best practices and does it the right way!
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