Modern healthcare throughout the world is becoming proactive, predictive, personalized, and participatory, and the growing digitalization of our world is the basis for these trends. The Internet of Things, or IoT, is a network of devices equipped with built-in tools and technologies for interacting with each other or with the external environment, can transform the digital health ecosystem.
The first Internet of Things application in medicine appeared twenty years ago, and even then its potential in enhancing the quality of services and reducing costs for patients was noticed. In 2020, Gartner Analytics included IoT in healthcare as one of the world's top technology trends. An important indicator of success is the robust growth of the healthcare IoT market, which is projected to achieve $534.3 billion by 2025. Moreover, 60% of healthcare vendors are implementing IoT solutions at full speed.
Innovation has a long way to go before it will be fully adopted in this area. The Internet of Things in healthcare has tremendous power and can transform the industry, but its adoption was far too slow. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, changed the situation, bringing new demands into the healthcare field and revealing the urgent need for solutions that can provide care away from the healthcare facility.
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Future of IoT in healthcare
Until recently, the interaction between subjects and medics was limited to visits, calls, and correspondence in instant messengers. There was no technical ability to remotely monitor the health of patients or make recommendations.
IoT systems, on the other hand, can remotely control the healthcare sector, facilitate interactions with doctors, as well as increase patient coverage and gratification. Digital healthcare apps allow people to schedule their appointments without calling. Doctors can access patient information through apps on their smartphones.
Benefits of IoT in Healthcare
Monitoring enables doctors to make informed decisions while offering complete transparency.
Speed up the conversion of subject data
Doctors typically spend hours manually processing various information. With IoT, this will take a couple of minutes.
The built-in IoT technology allows subjects to be monitored in real-time, which substantially reduces doctor visits, hospital stays, and readmissions.
Rapid diagnosis of diseases
Continuous monitoring of the patient and real-time data allows doctors to identify predispositions and diagnose the development of a disease at an early stage. In addition, when the Internet of Things is united with AI and machine learning, more viable treatment options are suggested.
Constant health monitoring prevents acute situations from arising. Recent studies have shown that the remote monitoring of patients with heart failure decreases readmission rates by 50%.
Drug and equipment administration
With connected objects, you can more effectively monitor medicine and manage connected equipment at a lower cost.
The data gathered by IoT devices is important not only for making the right decisions but also for reducing system errors and unnecessary costs in the medical field.
IoT in the medical and healthcare ecosystem
It's safe to say that healthcare is a very suitable field for the Internet of Things. Everything in medicine - from thermometers to advanced scanners - is equipped with sensors, and each of them accumulates valuable data. However, many of them lack the Internet part - communications and software that would allow them to easily communicate with each other and with centralized healthcare systems, providing medical staff with a digital patient model that potentially raises service quality to a whole new level.
IoT solutions in healthcare are needed not only by patients but also by their families, doctors, hospitals, and insurance companies. Fitness bracelets, heart-rate cuffs, blood glucose meters, and other gadgets provide the best personalized care. These smart devices can be customized to remind you of medication times, exercise, and so much more.
Smart devices can improve the lives of people, especially elderly patients. Whenever something about a person's well-being is disturbed or changed, an alert mechanism warns family members or healthcare providers.
Impact of IoT in healthcare
As medical devices, wearables, electronic health records, and other healthcare IT systems become more interoperable and interconnected, they will provide a digitized healthcare continuum. Innovation adapted by one healthcare facility drives others to do the same. Below is a list of IoT use cases in healthcare:
With home monitoring equipment with built-in IoT sensors, doctors can better monitor patients' health, their adherence to treatment plans, and determine if they need urgent medical attention. The Internet of Things also enables healthcare and other service providers to engage more actively with patients and be more informed. The data assembled by IoT devices can help doctors determine the best treatment for patients and achieve the expected results, and move medical examinations from the hospital to the patient's home.
IoT sensor devices can successfully track the location of important medical appliances such as wheelchairs, defibrillators. They can also analyze the location of medical personnel. Hygiene monitoring IoT devices help prevent nosocomial contamination of patients. Introducing sensors will be useful for asset management, for example, for inventorying pharmacies or for checking and monitoring the temperature of a vaccine refrigerator. By the way, 29% of European medical institutions in 2019 in a pilot mode used IoT devices to control and manage their premises.
For Health Insurance
Insurers can use data collected from health-monitoring devices to settle claims and other insurance transactions. This data will allow them to determine the prospects for underwriting and minimize the likelihood of fraud. This approach has the potential to regulate the relationship between clients and insurers on underwriting, claims processing, pricing, and risk assessment.
For Medical Research
Any medical research takes several years, but the Internet of Things can significantly shorten this time. Non-stop data obtained can be used for statistical research and analysis, which will allow for more large-scale and reliable medical research.
IoT technology in healthcare
One of the fastest-growing sectors of the IoT market is medical devices. IoT in healthcare statistics suggests that it will be a $176 billion industry by 2026.
The main categories of medical devices are subdivided into three clusters:
- Wearable devices for monitoring temperature, blood pressure, ECG, glucose, and oxygen levels. Smartphone apps integrated with health-related sensors are also part of this category.
- Implanted devices, such as glucose monitors, pacemakers, and neurostimulators. Aside from collecting and transmitting health data, these devices can deliver medication and do reminders and alerts directly to the patient. They can be of particular importance in preventing heart failure or diabetic coma and in reducing the incidence of strokes.
- Stationary medical instruments, such as imaging devices, X-ray, and MRI machines used in hospitals or other healthcare settings. Some laboratory tests and drug management systems also fall into this category. All of them can collect and transmit data to other network devices.
One indicator of the development of the medical services during the quarantine period is the applying of unmanned aerial vehicles, telemedicine instruments, etc. Smart insulin pens, replaceable sensors, connected inhalers, RFID tracking systems, and many other technologies that integrate with the IoT are also worth mentioning.
IoT technology, as a collection target, implies the discovery and aggregation of human body data.
The systems work in these ways:
- Connected devices collect patient health information and then transmit it as input. These can be sensors, detectors, monitors, and camera systems.
- The data is evaluated, formatted, decrypted, filtered, after which the system sends data to the cloud or data centers. And their doctors or other specialists get access to them.
Another good example of an intelligent IoT solution in healthcare concerns digital twins that gather and integrate data assembled by sensors on medical devices and send it back to the platform via the IoT. This allows doctors and other healthcare providers to track treatment progress using a digital patient model.
Gartner predicts that by 2023, one-third of midsize and large companies will have at least one digital twin associated with a use case.
IoT Vulnerabilities in Healthcare
However, using IoT technology in healthcare does have its drawbacks — IoT devices still cannot be centrally managed and updated.
Related IoT-enabled devices accumulate large volumes of data, including confidential information. As a result, IoT devices can be used as gateways to steal sensitive data if it’s not properly secured. As a result, 82% of healthcare institutions are informed about attacks on their IoT devices. Because of these attacks, 43% of companies reported downtime, 42% reported data theft, and 31% reported damage to the company's reputation.
The amount of data collected from IoT devices is so big that it can be difficult for doctors to comprehend or make conclusions from them, which ultimately affects the quality of their decision-making.
Device manufacturers have not yet reached a consensus on communication protocols and standards. Protocol heterogeneity slows down data aggregation and reduces the adaptivity of IoT in healthcare.
The development of IoT applications and their full optimization must be cost-effective, or services will remain inaccessible to many patients. For example, integrating remote monitoring applications with the IoT comes with significant costs. A significant part of the value of implementing IoT technology can go toward covering the cost of network communications.
We cannot overstate the importance of IoT in healthcare, as it has expanded the possibilities for patient care through monitoring, access, and analyzing data in real-time. This data is a precious asset for healthcare stakeholders to get better patient health and facilitate the work of healthcare staff. A willingness to harness this digital power will become a hallmark in an increasingly interconnected world. The sooner medical institutions integrate IoT technology, the more opportunities there will be for the industry to develop in the long term. We can say with great confidence that the impact of the Internet of Things in our society will only grow - it’s just a matter of time.