Internet-of-ThingsNewscasts, the internet and technical publications give nearly daily updates on the latest development of the Internet of Things, or IoT. You must have seen or heard some of it … even if it left you scratching your head trying to decipher what this latest techie development is all about. Here’s a description and a summary of IoT applications in the world of health care.

Simply put, the IoT refers to the connection of everyday devices to the internet. That extends beyond the obvious, i.e computers and smartphones. Notably, cars, kitchen appliances, building climate control systems and security monitors are a list that gets added to nearly daily.

In the context of use in hospitals – heart monitors, medical equipment, employees and patients are all candidates for apps that connect people to devices in the delivery of health care solutions … all targeted to better, faster and cheaper health outcomes.

The Internet of Things is now a reality transforming businesses, governments, and consumers in how they interact with the world – and health care, particularly hospitals, are part of that major transition process. Said another way, the future is now for connected healthcare.

In fact, it’s estimated that the global healthcare sector will pour about $410 billion into IoT devices, services, and software in 2022, according to a report from the research firm Grand View Research. That’s up from up from less than $100 billion invested in 2016, according to the same report.

North America IoT in Healthcare Market Estimates and Forecasts, by Component, 2012 – 2022 (USD Billion)

North America IoT in Healthcare Market Estimates and Forecasts

Strickler Medical

What Drives This Exponential Embrace of IoT Technology?

Apparently there are two main drivers, both of which are aimed at making healthcare more efficient and effective.

  • To enhance the patients’ experience, and
  • Increase hospital effectiveness

Enhanced Patient Experience: The IoT is transformational in the health care sector and places emphasis on patient needs. This technology raises the confidence level in patients as it results in improved diagnostic accuracy, speed in physician response and enhanced treatment outcomes.

Properly implemented, IoT solutions delivers real time information enabling both accuracy and promptness in helping healthcare professionals to make informed decisions and act on evidence-based treatment. Access to accurate data significantly minimizes error incidents and misdiagnosis. Drug monitoring and management is heightened to avoid patient misuse plus contain costs.

Increasing Hospital Effectiveness: Rising healthcare costs and regulations has accelerated hospital administrators to seek effective solutions to both better patient care and hospital efficiencies.

A major example is The Affordable Care Act penalty provisions for hospitals that have high readmission rates. This puts increasing pressure on hospitals to be sure patients are in stable condition upon discharge and thus avoid a return admission. However, that mandate did not increase available resources for hospitals to comply. That means having to do more with the same level of personnel, facilities and equipment. Obviously, an immediate gap was created.

One way IoT helps in the quest to bridge the gap is capturing and analyzing data to make more intelligent judgments that can accelerate treatment thereby saving lives and money.

IoT connectivity of health care solutions may extend beyond the hospital. Cloud computing facilitates continuous patient monitoring remotely. That means patients who may be cared for via home care guarantees a reduction in hospital stays, costs and readmissions.

Smart Health

Nancy Russo is a visiting professor at the Internet of Things and People (IOTAP). She offers revealing and prophetic insights as to IoT and health care which she refers to as “Smart Health”. In a recent talk, Russo positioned smart health as the most recent evolution of applying computing technologies to the healthcare field. A few excerpts from her remarks are pertinent to this article.

“Today I’d say we’re in the era of smart health, because now we can have devices that have built-in intelligence. Now our supporting health systems can do things — can “think” in a way.”

“Smart health systems provide health related services using a network — some kind of connection between intelligent agents. These intelligent agents could be computing devices, mobile phones, sensors, Fitbit smart bands, surgical devices, devices that measure your blood chemistry, or devices that measure your brainwaves.

The human actors — patients or healthcare providers for example — could be intelligent agents in this system. The sensors, devices, computers, applications, and human actors are all intelligent agents that might be connected in the smart health system.” 

Strickler Medical

Practical Applications for Intelligent Agents

Many of the devices that may be considered “intelligent agents” lend themselves to the category of wearable devices. In that context they may be used for patients to self-monitor physical activity, blood pressure and other functions that may affect hypertension and stress. Donald Jones with the Scripps Translational Science Institute is quoted as saying, “My favorite wearables today are those that measure blood pressure and that can be used to impute stress. I think these are some of the most interesting areas of feedback that we have today. Hypertension is a cause of many illnesses, and stress is obviously a big contributor.”

In addition to self-monitoring, remote technology permits a health care provider to keep track of a patient’s vital signs and initiate action as necessary. Medical devices that automatically capture and store patient health metrics enable healthcare professionals to have a real-time view of a patient’s status from a distance and prompt appropriate intervention.

Data Security

As with any technological innovations, there are risk factors associated with the rapid expansion of IoT in the medical field. It is incumbent upon IT professionals to be alert to the threats and diligent in orchestrating defenses. Cyber attacks will likely accelerate as there is more potential to steal sensitive health data … often viewed by the thieves as even more valuable than financial information that is the usual target of identity theft.

In our next issue, we’ll deal with hospital cybersecurity in more depth.

Summary and Conclusions

The existing and emerging IoT that entails the use of interconnected devices is projected to accelerate in the development of healthcare innovations that deliver better, faster, and cheaper solutions. That will contribute significantly to both patients’ welfare and healthcare provider efficiencies.

Networked wearable devices and apps will increasingly be the foundation for patient/provider connectivity. These devices will play a larger role in the evolving era of rising health care costs and regulation.

A nascent development may be a substantial increase in the use of “embeddables”. These are small, often battery powered, microchips that may be implanted virtually anywhere in a patient’s body. The health care “plus” is the ability to measure vital signs without invasive surgery.

This is not science fiction. The future is now for connected healthcare. And with the potential of ever more promising innovations, one can only marvel at the possibilities.

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