The Internet of Things, which is today becoming increasingly pervasive in so many fields, has multiple applications in healthcare, from remote surveillance to smart sensors and medical devices integration. It has the potential to not only ensure patients’ safety and health, but also to improve the whole way physicians provide medical care. What is more, IoT health care can also increase patient engagement and satisfaction by encouraging them to interact more with their physicians.
The varied applications of IoT in healthcare involve the use of popular technology topics such as cloud computing, machine learning, big data and predictive analytics. But these topics only cover part of how the Internet of Things can be deployed and enrich the health care industry and other vertical markets.
Although IoT in healthcare is not yet widely used in the industry, many doctors admit that, in the years to come, its presence will grow dramatically, speaking both of clinical and back-end use.
How do things stand today with healthcare IoT?
To get an idea of what this emerging trend has to offer today, let's take a look at some of the current applications of healthcare IoT, including how they are implemented in hospitals’ practice.
In fact, the Internet of Things has gazillions of applications in healthcare that benefit both patients (and their families accordingly!) and physicians to an equal extent. Some hospitals use the IoT devices to keep their baby-patients safe and healthy, while others just manage their inventory. That's how vast the extent of the IoT potential of health care is.
IoT for patient’s home monitoring
Home patient monitoring is an excellent example of an area in which IoT health care devices can be put to good use. IoT devices can collect data on door openings and closures, patient temperatures, sleep and motion patterns, and more. When a high-risk patient is injured or falls at home, IoT devices are able to recognize it and alert relatives or nurses. There is no doubt that this kind of remote observation can be considered as lifesaving. A simple use case like this one shows how the team-up of data captured by basic sensors with smart systems can be useful for both patients and care providers.
IoT for optimizing healthcare workflow
Although the concept of RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) appeared more than 5 years ago or even earlier, the adoption of this technology has not been as quick as some could expect. The situation is gradually improving nowadays as the price of these devices decreases, while their reliability becomes more and more convincing, making the RFID value more obvious for hospitals. Besides managing their throughput by using wireless infrastructure and tag devices such as wrist bands and ID badges, clinics can better understand their bottlenecks and eliminate them faster and more efficiently than the traditional time studies used traditionally.
IoT for medical devices integration
When it comes to IoT for the integration of medical devices, the focus is more on consumers. People are looking at how to integrate things like the Fitbits and other fitness devices to bring patient provided data into the cycle of care delivery. It is also worth looking at glucose meters, blood pressure monitors and other devices that collect data and statistics on patients' vital signs. It is expected that this will allow physicians to collect this data in a more automated way and apply decision support rules to allow them to intervene earlier in the process. There is now an opportunity to do more with home medical devices because there are more devices that can operate on a wireless network.
This is just the beginning of the integration of these devices capable of collecting patient data directly into the hospital's EMR, allowing clinicians to improve their workflow and ease the documentation procedures.
IoT for inventory management
Hospitals are not using IoT to track inventory as largely as it could be the case, when they actually could learn a few lessons from retail in how to deploy those tools and integrate them with the back end of their existing ERP solutions. The biggest impact they could get from managing inventory with IoT solution would be in areas like pharmacies and overall inventory control in warehouses.
While many IoT deployments focus on routine operations such as lighting and heating control, in some clinics the technology already goes a step further. A good example can be seen at Boston Medical Center, where the entire cycle of operation, from newborn babies to composting leftover food, benefits from IoT achievements. Newborns wear sensor wristbands that will prevent lifts from functioning as soon as a baby is brought too close to the exit door without special arrangement. Patients 'medical conditions, such as critical oxygen level or heart rate, are sent to their nurses' cell phones to create an immediate alert. Wireless temperature sensors are installed in laboratory refrigerators and freezers to ensure correct temperatures for blood samples and other materials storage. And these are just a few examples of using the Internet of Things technologies that are part of the daily routine in this clinic.
What slows things down?
While all these edgy examples seem very promising, the IoT health care still faces several obstacles. The growing number of devices connected each day and, as a result, the increasing amount of data collected on a day-to-day basis is a real challenge for hospital IT departments. Another question that comes naturally is to keep all these big data secure and private, especially when they are exchanged with other devices.
Here are the top five challenges of IoT in healthcare that still need to be resolved to make its potential fully profitable and to eliminate the risk of potential failure:
- Lack of EHR system integration. Data collected from IoT devices, including the patient's vital signs and physical activity, do not always go into an EMR system and, in most cases, are not centralized or easily accessible to physicians. This limits the value of the information because it is not always available to the health care provider for further clinical analysis.
- Insufficient systems interoperability. The information captured by the patient often stays within each system and is not visible to others. Unfortunately, due to lack of interoperability, data from different IoT devices can remain stuck in each individual system and lose their potential value to all members of a patient's care team.
- IoT data taken out of context. Data collected from wearables and other medical devices often remain locked in the IoT provider's repository, while it may not provide any help unless it is visible within the context of the patient's full record.
- Data security. Some analysts view IoT as a disruptive technology and are concerned about its level of data security and its ability to meet health compliance requirements. From the moment the data is collected from the device until it is transmitted to its final destination, securing this information is critical.
- Hardware Connectivity Issues. Patient health data is often collected from multiple devices, which may require multiple sensors that, in most cases, are used together with a hub designed to handle all the incoming information. These hubs are not always compatible with different sensors and the lack of common hardware or wireless connectivity standards may induce the necessity to use too much hardware, which can be uncomfortable and pricey.
What's next for IoT healthcare?
We will see more and more experiences where the IoT devices will enter the human body for advanced diagnosis and treatment. With advancements in IoT in healthcare and miniaturization, along with leaps in IoT innovation, we are embarking on a journey of personal uber-connectivity.
While these innovations look truly impressive and promising, the future success of connected health care devices will depend not only on the IoT devices and other hardware currently available on the market. This seems rather to be a question of what is done further with the information collected from patients and what measures can be taken based on this data analysis.
IoT devices are used in different ways. But the data collection model may not offer enough value for health care organizations to decide on the implementation of IoT health care devices in their operation. To be truly convincing, IoT devices need to provide an effective backend data processing that will convert the information collected into meaningful insights for health care organizations to consider using them.