The Internet of Things for healthcare is an emerging industry whose goal is to change how doctors monitor their patients’ health and provide patients with the best treatment possible. In a world where chronic diseases are becoming more common and the costs of treatment are constantly increasing, IoT can be one of the many solutions to make healthcare more efficient.
IoT as the next frontier
Medical companies, hospitals, and clinics that adopt IoT devices and ingrain them deeply into their work will be the winners in the healthcare market of the future.
Currently, the Internet of Things for healthcare (or the Internet of Medical Things) is at the adoption stage. Its widespread proliferation is yet to come.
Most IoT devices and software for healthcare are focused on monitoring the health of patients outside of medical facilities and providing telemedicine services. It’s predicted that 73% of IoT applications for healthcare monitor and maintain patients’ health.
IoT technology, however, is capable of so much more. It can be used in health insurance, hospital construction, personal healthcare, the smart pharmacy industry, robotics, and disease treatment.
According to Aruba Networks, by 2019, 87% of all health organizations will be using IoT technologies.
In this article, we’ll show you what benefits IoT can bring to each actor in the healthcare industry and what challenges stand in the way of full integration of IoT devices.
Biggest drivers of the IoT revolution in healthcare
These are the main reasons why IoT will be increasingly adopted in healthcare (and some issues that Internet of Things devices can solve):
- The global population is ageing, especially in Western countries.
- Chronic diseases are on the rise.
- Patients’ perceptions of their own health are changing.
- There’s a need to reduce healthcare costs.
- There’s demand for overall improvement of care.
- There’s increasing demand for remote consulting and health monitoring.
- Healthcare wearables are growing in popularity.
According to Business Wire, remote patient monitoring will grow at a CAGR of 24.55% through 2022. By 2020, the smart pill segment will be worth $6.93 billion.
The whole smart healthcare market is expected to reach $169 billion by 2020, so adoption of IoT will increase in the near-term.
IoT for healthcare is a growing niche with many actors, interested in its advancement
Benefits of IoT for healthcare
IoT for healthcare is beneficial to almost all actors in the healthcare industry:
- Hospitals and clinics
- Medical professionals
- Insurance officers
Let’s see what benefits these groups can reap from Internet of Things technologies.
Monitor patients both in and out of facilities
With IoT devices, doctors can constantly monitor patients’ blood pressure, blood sugar level, weight, heart rate, and other vitals. IoT is especially useful for patients that need constant care remotely.
IoT devices are easy to use and usually don’t take up place or interfere with everyday activities
Insurance companies can also use IoT devices to monitor their customers. Some insurance companies already recommend the customers use trackers and give them tips on how to lead a healthy lifestyle. Insurance companies can also provide discounts to those who use trackers.
Collect and analyze data
IoT devices allow you to collect tons of data, but it would take lots of time to derive meaningful conclusions from it by hand. Luckily, AI and machine learning can help with that.
IoT tracks data and not only keeps it in one place, but also derives valuable insights from it
With the help of machine learning and AI systems that get data from connected devices, hospital staff can interpret all this data and use it to make more effective decisions.
Reduce emergency wait times
IoT can help doctors find the necessary equipment and connect emergency workers with each other by sending notifications and alerts to their wearable devices.
Wearables are more effective than smartphones, as they leave a user’s hands free. Collected data can help doctors to address patients’ needs more effectively.
Provide remote consultations
Telemedicine is one of the most popular areas of IoT for healthcare. It includes mHealth: using mobile devices like smartphones and tablets for video consultations with doctors.
Telemedicine allows doctors to not only monitor their patients remotely but also consult them. This reduces costs, increases efficiency, and even strengthens patients’ loyalty to a clinic, as they don’t need to visit the doctor in person when it’s not necessary.
Increase hospital efficiency
IoT can increase operational efficiency, control the flow of people, and help solve management issues. First, IoT devices can collect and store data about patients. Then, with the help of machine learning and AI, your digital system can make smart conclusions from all this data.
According to Aruba Networks, by 2019, 87% of all health organizations will be using IoT technologies
These conclusions enable doctors to make decisions more effectively and have access to patient data at all times.
Optimize medical inventory management
IoT can help to locate and manage medical inventory such as wheelchairs and IV poles. Locating inventory will help staff perform faster and more effectively.
- Improve the patient experience
With IoT, you can provide patients with more possibilities to take care of themselves and make their stay at the hospital more convenient. Connected rooms can automatically control conditions such as humidity and noise levels.
If there’s a need for a nurse, a patient can make a request through a smart speaker with a voice assistant.
Manage drug intake more efficiently
One of the most revolutionary types of medical IoT devices is smart pills: they’re just a few millimeters long and have microscopic sensors that can send alerts to another device regarding a recommended dosage of medication.
Technologies and use cases
Smart IoT devices in hospitals help to:
- Improve hospital logistics by implementing automation systems
- Make the work of hospital staff more efficient by monitoring patients’ health and quickly providing staff with information during emergencies
- Improve the patient experience by giving more control over conditions and providing a constant connection to doctors
IoT is most famous for its use in smart homes, but what about smart hospitals? A smart hospital not only gathers data on operations and treatment of patients but also analyzes this data and provides valuable insights.
Nurses, doctors, and even patients can use these insights to react faster and manage internal processes more effectively. To make this convenient, people should be able to access data and insights through a clear interface on a computer, mobile phone, or tablet.
Smart equipment can be either part of a global smart hospital system or just a set of separate smart devices that are controlled by hospital staff and/or patients. Smart equipment includes:
- Medication dispensers
- Voice assistants
- Humidity, pressure, and noise sensors
IoT sensors can track health from inside a patient. These sensors usually look like pills and can detect medications, warn of any abnormalities, and help doctors prevent diseases at the earliest stages.
Fitness wristbands and smartwatches are the most common wearables used not only by patients at hospitals but also by average people who want to be healthier or just find wearables useful.
However, the healthcare industry also offers such wearables as:
- Tattoo-like epidermal sensors
- Head wearables
- Smart glasses
mHealth is one of the core technologies that often goes hand in hand with IoT. It brings together mobile technologies to assist patients and doctors and either provide services or act as an interface that displays collected data and insights.
Mobile applications for healthcare, paired with IoT devices, not only display data but send instant alerts and reminders and collect user analytics.
Telemedicine is also possible with mHealth. The main goal of telemedicine is to provide remote consultations from anywhere and at any time.
Challenges of IoT for healthcare
Despite all the benefits IoT has to offer for healthcare, there are also some challenges to overcome. Let’s talk about them and discuss possible solutions.
This is by far the biggest threat to mass adoption of IoT devices in the healthcare industry. Data security in IoT is an issue for any sector, whether it’s smart homes, fitness, construction, or even agriculture.
Even relatively isolated software currently suffers from cyber attacks, increasing the need for cybersecurity services. IoT devices are even more prone to cyber attacks for various reasons:
- Most IoT devices lack security protocols and standards, and the whole IoT industry is diverse; each device maker handles security differently (if they handle it at all).
- IoT devices get and send data in real time, and this exchange happens between several devices simultaneously. This makes it easy to perform a man-in-the-middle attack.
- Because there are many different devices, there’s a higher chance of finding a vulnerability in one of them or abusing a device’s security physically.
The solution to data security issues is to choose a device manufacturer thoroughly and make sure they follow security standards within their company. If you feel that you don’t have enough expertise to assess the level of security, hire a cyber security company that will be able to test both the devices and your own system for possible vulnerabilities.
Because there are many IoT device makers within an unregulated ecosystem, it’s a challenge to integrate devices from different manufacturers into one system. Differences in device logic and protocols cause incompatibilities.
However, some big companies are currently trying to create IoT platforms that will make integration much easier.
It’s a challenge to integrate devices from different manufacturers into one system
The solution here is to either use devices from one reliable manufacturer or build your IoT ecosystem around platforms that are capable of uniting devices from different manufacturers.
Collecting and analyzing data is the core reason to use IoT for healthcare. However, IoT devices can sometimes record data incorrectly. This influences the output and makes it difficult for doctors to assess the results and make the right decisions based on them.
To solve this challenge, you need to test devices you’ll use for your healthcare business to make sure their data is accurate.
As IoT for healthcare is only beginning to become common, it’s still not that affordable. Integrating Internet of Things technologies into your hospital means more than plugging in new devices and gathering data from them.
Building a hospital IoT ecosystem requires deep changes to your current system and integration of AI to derive valuable insights from the collected data.
Integration of IoT devices, though it will reduce costs in the long run, will be more of an investment in the beginning. You’ll need to set things up, take care about data security, make changes to your current CRM so that collected data is available to your staff, and take care of maintenance.
Though there have already been many advancements in the healthcare industry, it still lacks seamless integration across technologies, and cost transparency. Internet of Things devices can bring healthcare to the next level.
Whether you just want to incorporate wearables into your daily operations to help nurses and doctors provide individual care based on data or you’d like to create a telemedicine startup, IoT can offer you the technologies you need.
While IoT helps to save money in the future, it will require investment into its development, changes to your current system, and maintenance. Pay close attention to security, as in healthcare, sensitive patient data is at stake.