IoT In Healthcare: Supporting Robust Health and Medical Practices
We're at the inception of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, wherein the line between human and technology becomes increasingly blurred. It is logical that we look to the technological world for ways to fix the very human shortfall in healthcare. The Internet of Things’ (IoT), often associated with manufacturing and smart factories, is propagating in healthcare and medical fields, with growing adoption into medical practices. IoT and healthcare have a healthy relationship, and great strides are being made using IoT to make healthcare and medical services more efficient, beneficial and affordable. The IoT may mean a revolution in the diagnosis and treatment of disease.
There are many IoT applications in healthcare such as remote monitoring, smart sensors, and medical device integration. IoT has great potential to keep patients safe and healthy and also improve how physicians deliver care. Healthcare IoT can also bolster patient satisfaction by allowing patients to spend more time interacting with their doctors because doctors aren't as occupied with the mundane and rote aspects of their profession. The most significant benefit to IoT in healthcare is that it supports doctors in conducting more meaningful medical work in a profession that already is experiencing a global skilled labor shortage.
What does the internet of things mean for healthcare?
IoT means a world of opportunities in healthcare where once ordinary medical devices worked independently, now connected via the internet, the machines can collect invaluable data, identify trends and symptoms, allow for remote care, and give more control to patients.
Examples of IoT healthcare devices:
1) Bluetooth-enabled blood labs
The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne has created implantable devices that act as individualized blood testing laboratories. The implantable device contains five sensors, each coated with an enzyme, that allows the implant to track substances in the body such as glucose and lactate. The substance tracking is analyzed and then sent via Bluetooth to the person's device. If needed, the findings can also be transmitted, via a cellular network, to a remote doctor for further analysis. This advancement in at-home medicine would mean fewer check-ups for elderly patients and those living with chronic illnesses. This small implantable device means less bloodwork conducted in labs, which in turn requires fewer lab technicians. A doctor's ability to analyze bloodwork remotely means less time spent conducting unnecessary face-to-face visits. These factors help to alleviate pressure on the strained healthcare system.
2) Connected inhalers
Asthma is a condition that impacts hundreds of millions of people globally. Connected inhalers are a form of smart technology that is giving people living with asthma control over their symptoms and treatment. Propeller Health makes smart asthma technology. Propeller has created a sensor that is attached to an inhaler or Bluetooth spirometer. The sensor connects to an app and helps people with asthma and COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) gain insight into what may be causing their symptoms. The sensor and app also track the use of medication and provide allergen forecasts, so users are aware of increased risk scenarios. A primary benefit to a connected inhaler is that asthma medication is taken on a more frequent and consistent basis. The sensor also creates a report sharable with the patient’s doctor.
3) Connected cancer treatment
In 2018, data was presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting from a clinical trial of patients all receiving treatment for head and neck cancer. The treatment had patients use a Bluetooth-enabled weight scale and blood pressure cuff, along with a symptom-tracking app, to send daily updates to patients’ doctors on symptoms and responses to treatment. The doctors could adjust treatment day-to-day based on the data. The patients involved in the trial experienced less severe symptoms related to cancer and the treatment, then those in a control group who maintained weekly doctor visits. Bruce E. Johnson, President of ASCO, said that IoT technologies "helped simplify care for both patients and their care providers by enabling emerging side effects to be identified and addressed quickly and efficiently to ease the burden of treatment." The treatment, supplemented with IoT smart technologies, improved patient-physician interactions, demonstrated improved monitoring capabilities, was less disruptive to patients’ lives, and kept them away from doctor’s offices where they could have come into contact with viruses.
4) IoT connected contact lenses
Smart contact lenses are being developed that aim to treat long-sightedness caused by a loss of elasticity in the lens of an eye, known as presbyopia, and cataract surgery recovery. Swiss company Sensimed has developed a non-invasive contact lens called Triggerfish, which records changes in eye dimensions that can lead to glaucoma.
5) A smartwatch app that monitors depression
Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) can be tracked by a smartwatch app used daily by patients to monitor their moods and thoughts. There is definite potential for wearable technology to do more than count steps; in this case, it could be used to assess the effects of depression in real-time. Like other IoT healthcare devices, a depression app could give patients and healthcare providers more insight into the condition.
6) Blood coagulation testing
Roche launched a Bluetooth-enabled coagulation system. The IoT device allows patients to check how quickly their blood clots. Roche's system is the first IoT device explicitly designedspecifically for anticoagulated patients. The system which provides for self-testing was shown to help patients remain within their therapeutic range and lowered their risk of bleeding and stroke. The ability to wirelessly transfer results to their healthcare professional meant fewer visits to the medical clinic. Roche's device also allows patients to add comments to their results, reminds them to test, and flags the results if they fell outside of specified range when testing.
Many additional healthcare IoT projects are in the works. Ultimately, with shortages in healthcare professionals from blood lab technicians to doctors and nurses, IoT devices promise to ease the healthcare burden in the future. From pacemakers to ingestible medication sensors, to blood pressure cuffs, IoT healthcare devices can assist physicians in better managing diseases, monitoring patients, and improving treatment outcomes. However, with great benefits also comes substantial risk. There are obvious healthcare IoT security concerns. Sensitive patient data that is collected and stored via connected IoT devices are prone to hackers as part of the war over data that goes along with the age of hyper-connection. IoT healthcare devices and networks need to be more formidable against hackers before widespread adoption occurs. Cybersecurity concerns are a primary barrier to widespread healthcare IoT adoption.