Internet of Things (IoT) has captured the world in a big way, finding varied applications in sectors like energy, automotive and other manufacturing industries, consumer industry, and many more. However, IoT applications are still in a very nascent stage when it comes to healthcare, which is unfortunate considering the fact that IoT has the potential to revolutionize healthcare in ways that benefit both patients and healthcare professionals alike.
Monitoring devices like electrocardiogram machines, wearable heart rate monitors, and blood sugar monitors can be IoT enabled to collect, display, and report patient data. Smart beds used in some hospitals can inform the staff when the patient has left the bed. IoT enabled medication dispensers can alert the pharmacy when medicines need to be refilled, as well as alert medical staff when the patient misses a dose.
IoT enabled devices can transmit real-time patient data to healthcare professionals which can help them to administer treatments quickly and more effectively. Doctors can continue to monitor critical cases and provide care, even when the patient is at a remote location. Such remote healthcare reduces the number of hospital visits required by patients, thus diminishing the burden on hospital staff. It can cut down manual activities to a large extent by automating the monitoring and reporting of health statistics. Medicare estimates that nearly $17 billion is spent each year on readmission costs and most of these re-admissions are due to complications arising from manageable diseases like diabetes. IoT enabled monitoring devices aid proactive health management by alerting patients and healthcare professionals to adverse health conditions, so timely care can be arranged before the situation worsens.
Why has healthcare shied away from embracing IoT?
In spite of the above benefits, the healthcare sector has been slow in adopting IoT to a great extent. A major reason for this is the concern over privacy and security of sensitive medical information and the need to adhere to Government regulations relating to privacy and security of patient data. Overloading physicians and professional caretakers with too much data and lack of accepted standards for manufacturing devices and equipment lead to various hazards. Healthcare, as an organized sector, also lacks stipulations and standards when it comes to where IoT devices can be beneficially applied and how the resulting data can be consumed. Some also fear that too much interference of technology can be detrimental to the ultimate well-being of patients apart from hurting the doctor-patient relationship. IoT relies on sharing of data between devices and the sharing of sensitive patient information will require prior patient consent.
Where is it headed?
Indranil Ganguly, Vice President and CIO, JFK Health System, New Jersey, predicts that the next five years will see a surge in IoT usage in healthcare, both by medical staff as well as by the hospital administration. Inventory management, tracking of in-house devices, and patient movements within the premises, are areas where we can expect to see wide-spread adoption of IoT in healthcare centers. Healthcare centers will have to reformat their policies to accommodate these constraints and to enable sharing of information between various healthcare institutions in a safe and organized manner. Given the vast multitude of devices, another challenge that healthcare institutions face is to adopt the right devices and use it in the most efficient manner. PricewaterhouseCoopers expects the IoT driven healthcare sector to grow to $61 billion by 2020.
Recent instances of IoT adoption in healthcare
Philips and Qualcomm have come together to establish a healthcare ecosystem powered by IoT. Qualcomm has developed several IoT products like 2Net open device network which supports building of customized healthcare apps that are delivered through the patient’s smartphone or a wearable device, IoT enables medication dispensers, biosensors, glucose monitors and more. Philips has to its credit a cloud-based platform for healthcare centers, practitioners and individuals. Their partnership has laid the foundation of a robust healthcare ecosystem that feeds on data generated by Qualcomm’s IoT devices and can be readily consumed by healthcare providers through cloud-based platform.
Plagued by rising healthcare costs, the NHS (National Health Service) is experimenting with using IoT in a test group of diabetes and dementia patients. The NHS spends ₤14 billion every year on treating diabetes and its resulting complications. To curtail this expense as well as to help patients to manage their condition from the comfort of their homes, NHS launched the NHS Innovation Test Beds under which it collaborates with technology companies like Verily, IBM, and Philips to address this burgeoning problem. Patients will be provided with wearable IoT enabled monitoring devices and the data will be studied by healthcare workers to provide preemptive care to manage health conditions before they take a serious shape. The patients will also be coached on managing their diseases using data generated by the IoT devices. The same strategy will also be applied to help dementia patients to continue living in their home instead of being put in a care institute.
IoT has the potential to transform healthcare by providing critical patient data on time to healthcare professionals, thus helping them to do their job better, as well as helping patients to manage their condition better and lead healthier lives.
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